Kottayam: It has been 41 years since a callow Youth Congress activist stepped into the electoral fray to contest the assembly elections. Oommen Chandy hasn`t looked back since, and is now set for a 10th consecutive win from his home constituency of Puthupally in this Kerala district.
Chandy, 67, now the longest-serving Congress legislator in the state, has held virtually every political post in these four decades -- from a minister in the K. Karunakaran cabinet in 1977 and a senior minister holding the portfolios of home and finance to chief minister and now leader of the opposition.
As campaigning heats up ahead of the April 13 poll, the question, his aides say, is not whether he will win, but by what margin.
As leader of the opposition, Chandy stays busy and manages just a few days in his constituency. His line is simple as he moves around, meeting people: "You know me and I know you."
"I know the people here quite well, most of them by their first name. I have the full faith of my voters," Chandy told.
Against the veteran is local college professor Suja Susan George, making her electoral debut as a candidate of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
While Chandy campaigns for other candidates of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), his supporters have taken on the job of going door-to-door to remind people that this time he has to win with a record high victory margin.
In the last elections in 2006, Chandy won by the 19,863 votes against CPI-M youth leader Sindhu Joy. His lowest margin was in his first electoral outing when he defeated CPI-M veteran E.M. George by 7,288 votes.
Ironically, it was Joy who kickstarted Chandy`s campaign this time. She quit the CPI-M to join the Congress.
The only other legislator who has a better record than Chandy in the history of the assembly is K.M. Mani of the Kerala Congress (Mani), who has enjoyed an uninterrupted stint in the elections since 1965 and is also in the fray in Pala in Kottayam district.