Kerala poll campaign expected to be acrimonious

With personalised attacks heating up the political atmosphere in Kerala, campaign for the April 13 Assembly polls is expected to be acrimonious.

Thiruvananthapuram: With personalised attacks heating up the political atmosphere in Kerala, campaign for the April 13 Assembly polls is expected to be acrimonious, pushing vital themes like development into the background.

Both ruling CPI(M)-led LDF and UDF headed by Congress have said the focus of their campaign would be development but hardly a day has passed since the last month without the opposing combines levelling corruption charges and other allegations at each other.

The tempo is expected to rise as the run-up to the polls gains momentum.

What has served as a catalyst for the political scene to become murkier is the resurfacing of the `ice cream parlour` sex scam which dominated much of the poll debate in 2006 to the peril of the UDF which was unseated by the LDF

The allegation targeting Indian Union Muslim League leader PK Kunhalikitty, levelled by his brother-in-law Rouf that he had helped his relative to wriggle out of the scam, jolted the UDF, which has been on a strong wicket having done extremely well in the last Lok Sabha and civic polls.

This was followed by imprisonment of Kerala Congress (B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a corruption case and renewed interest in the palmolein import case, which had been pursued by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan over the years.

These issues were seized by LDF, especially Achuthanandan, as a lethal weapon to attack the UDF. Achuthanandan went hammer and tongs at his rivals asserting that the "sexual exploiters" and the "corrupt" would be handcuffed and paraded.

According to observers, the 87-year-old CPI (M) veteran will leverage the sex scam and corruption cases to ensure his continuance as the team leader of LDF, upsetting the plans of his foes within CPI-M to `send him home`.

Realising that LDF has suddenly got its arsenal replenished, the UDF leaders have begun to single out and attack Achuthanandan levelling a slew of allegations against his son VA Arun Kumar, a technocrat who holds a key position in a state-run institution.

The UDF charge against Kumar included his misusing his father`s position for personal gains, making foreign trips without proper permission and seeking to sabotage a CBI probe into irregularities in operations of outside-state lotteries.

Unfazed by Kumar`s threat to sue his tormentors, UDF sources said these charges would be raised prominently during the campaign. The LDF`s move to drag the Congress`s Chief Ministerial contender Oommen Chandy into the palmolein case has made the UDF doubly tenacious in their attack on the Chief Minister.

When the case came up in a special court here a fortnight ago, the government filed an affidavit stating that further investigations might be required in the case.

This is seen as a move to bring in Chandy into the case in his capacity as Finance Minister in 1991-92 when the palmolein deal was cleared.

The wrangling over charges of corruption has also assumed another dimension with a strong section in the Congress demanding that those facing charges should be denied ticket.

Besides the internal implications, sections in the Congress think that this approach would also help contain allies like Kerala Congress (M) and IUML, who are pressing for more seats this time.

Allegations and counter allegations apart, LDF and UDF would be giving a prominent place for economic development and strengthening of social security in their election manifestos. Both CPI(M) and the Congress had recently organised meets to discuss Kerala`s developmental issues.

According to LDF convener and senior CPI (M) leader Vaikom Viswan, the achievements of the Achuthanandan Government and its corruption-free performance would prominently figure in the coalition`s campaign.

The UDF leaders, however, refute this contention arguing that the LDF would be called to account for its "failure on all vital fronts”.