With hardly a week left for the April 16 polls, an all-out battle is on in Kottayam Lok Sabha constituency with three-time CPI(M) MP K.Suresh Kurup locking horns with young Jose K Mani of the Kerala congress (M), a partner of the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
Kurup, an advocate, who won the seat with a margin of 42,914 votes in the 2004 elections, is facing a stiff challenge this time from Mani, political heir of veteran KCM leader K M Mani. Kurup had earlier represented the constituency in 1999, and 1998.
The constituency, with the highest number of 20 contestants in the state, including N K Narayanan of BJP, is the home turf of senior Mani, a former minister, and former Chief Minister and leader of the opposition Ommen Chandy.
Capitalising on the strong base of the Congress and KCM, the UDF has hit the campaign trail far ahead of the Left Democratic Front. KCM has a strong base in Pala, Kaduthuruthy, Ettumannur and Piravom assembly segments, while the Congress is strong in Vaikkom, Kottayam, Puthupally segments.
Another common threat is the 'namesake candidates'.
The 17 other candidates in the fray include some with names similar to that of the two main candidates, giving nightmare to both the LDF and UDF. There are five 'Suresh Kurups' and two Jose Manis', one of them, a taxi driver from Delhi, who flew to Kerala to file in his nomination papers.
The long line-up of the candidates, has necessitated the use of two ballot units in each of the Electronic Voting machines (EVMs) in every polling centre.
This is Jose K Mani's second attempt to enter the Lok Sabha. He had unsuccessfully contested in the 2004 elections from the now defunct Muvattupzuha constituency.
The Catholic church's closeness to Mani and its cold-shouldering of the Left front is likely to give shudders to the ruling combine this time, say poll observers.
The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), an organisation of the Ezhava community, has said it would support Mani's canidature while the Nair Service Society (NSS), another caste body, has not publicly announced its preference to any candidates so far.
The UDF is seeking to exploit the rift between CPI and CPI(M) and is highlighting the SNC Lavalin corruption case in which CBI has sought permission to arraign CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan as an accused.
In 2004, the five assembly segments -- Kottayam, Vaikom, Ettumanoor, Kaduthuruthy and Puthupally -- which are still with the Kottayam constituency after the delimitation, had contributed 2,52,657 votes to Kurup's kitty while Piravom and Pala (earlier with Muvattupuzha constituency) together had contributed 61,310 votes to the LDF.
The total electorate in Kottayam constituency was 10,95,242, registering an increase of 1,31,356 voters since 2004. Women lead the tally accounting for 5,50,577 voters against 5,44,665 men voters.
Piravom assembly segment has the highest number of voters at 1,68,782 while Kottayam has the lowest of 1,45,504.