The ruling Left Democratic Front candidate and nominee of Kerala Congress (J) Francis George, trying for a hat-trick, is facing a tough challenge from firebrand Congress leader P T Thomas in Idukki constituency, known for spices and other cash crops.
Idukki, a stronghold of Congress, that had sent to parliament party's veteran trade union leader late C M Stephen in 1977, lost the seat to LDF in the 1999 polls with George emerging the victor. He was re-elected in 2004 polls.
A constituency of plantation labourers, it had also favoured the LDF, sending three of their nominees to parliament since 1977 polls. Centre of Indian Trade Union leader M M Lawrence had won the seat in 1980.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front, taking no chances, has fielded Thomas, the party's district president, considered to be a protégé of Union Defence Minister A K Antony, to regain the seat.
Thomas, who was a Member of Legislative Assembly for two terms from Thodupuzha assembly segment which came under the Idukki Lok Sabha after delimitation, is giving a hard fight for George.
Though the main fight is between the LDF and UDF candidates, the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded party's district chief S Rajan, a former Communist Party of India-Marxist activist, who had joined the party recently. He has considerable influence among the plantation workers, majority of them people of Tamil origin.
The much hyped anti-encroachment drive of the LDF government led by Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan in Munnar last year and its fallout is likely to have an adverse impact on the LDF candidate, political observers say.
The government had to abandon the eviction drive after it was widely criticised by traders, business community and also local leaders of political parties including CPI-M and the Communist Party of India.
Crisis in the plantation sector due to fall in prices of cash crops like pepper, cardamom, ginger and rubber has emerged as one of the main poll planks. Both LDF and UDF claim credit for the 'Idukki Package' envisaged for rejuvenating the sector, announced by the Centre recently.
Implementation of the package, the proposed Hill Highway and other infrastructure development of the constituency which included the growth of international tourist spot Munnar are among the promises held out by LDF, UDF and BJP candidates.
Exuding confidence of winning a third time, George said the benefits of proper utilisation of MP's fund have reached the people. It would definitely get reflected in the polls.
The Congress alleges that George had not done anything for setting up the proposed 'Spices Park' already announced by the Centre. However, George denied the allegation, saying the land for the park had been identified in two places.
Thomas has taken up the issue of forming a stable government at the Centre as his main election plank as also the need for victory of the party to safeguard secularism and to protect the minorities.