Seeking the mandate for the 10th time after nine wins in a row is something rare in the slippery terrain of Kerala politics. But not so in the case of Congress's chief ministerial probable Oommen Chandy, who is back in the fray in his pocket borough Puthupally.
Even his foes would say that only a miracle could bring about his defeat but his main rival Communist Party of India-Marxist's Suja Susan George says a miracle is possible even in Puthupally as the people are wishing for a change. Known locally as "Kunjunju", 68-year-old Chandy has won from the rural segment on the periphery of Kottayam town with handsome margins in 1970, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections.
He is one of the few top Congress leaders, who has never shown any interest in running for Lok Sabha polls. Apart from his personal charisma and electoral record, the United Democratic Front has also no political reason to worry about victory since the Congress along with its allies had lifted all the eight panchayats in the constituency in the civic polls last year.
"Chandy is known to everybody here. It will be difficult to find a single voter who has not approached Chandy for one thing or the other, whichever party he or she belongs," said Philson Mathew, who looks after Chandy's campaign. "Moreover, he has nurtured Puthuppaly well in all these years without mingling politics in his duties as a member of legislative assembly," he said.
Entering politics through the Congress's student wing Kerela Students Union, Chandy was just a 27-year-old when he contested the polls from Puthuppally in 1970. Along with his seniors A K Antony and Vayalar Ravi, Chandy has played a major role in making the Congress a strong force in Kerala, especially after the 1969 split.
Now that he is the captain of the UDF, Chandy is wanted in all over the state to campaign. Knowing this, his campaign managers have deployed squads of workers to go door-to-door canvassing votes for their leader.
Though the Congress has not made an official announcement of Chandy being the chief minister candidate, the UDF workers do not have any doubt that he is going to occupy the top seat if the party wins.
The UDF campaign has also received shot in the arm with Chandy's 2006 opponent and former Students Federation of India leader Sindhu Joy quitting the CPI-M and rushing to canvass vote for the Congress in Puthupally. Sindhu was defeated by Chandy with a margin of 19,863 votes in 2006.
"Sindhu's campaign for Chandy has taken whatever little wind was left in the Left Democratic Front's sail," a local Congress functionary said. But LDF contestant Suja Susan George has refused to be disheartened by the claims of the rival camp. A college professor from the area and a debutante in poll arena, she has unleashed a fierce campaign against her mighty rival by taking up basic developmental issues of the segment.
According to 43-year-old Suja, Chandy had ignored Puthuppally in the past four decades as he has been a key player of the power games at the state capital all these years. Another theme of the LDF is the need for a change, arguing that sending the same person to the assembly again and gain would not be good in democracy.
"In a democracy, it is not good to send the same person to the Assembly in every election. It is another form of feudalism where the power is entrenched in a single hand," 43-year old Suja told mediapersons. "I am getting a good response, especially from women and new voters, wherever I go. They want a change and that is the miracle, that is the upset awaiting Puthupally," She said.
The Bharatiya Janata party has put up its Kottayam district secretary P Sunil Kumar in the segment, contesting on the plank of his party being a true alternative to the LDF and the UDF. Located about 8 kilometre away from Kottayam town, Puthupally is a sprawling constituency washed by rivers, surrounded by paddy fields and ups and downs with shady rubber trees.
The social composition of the constituency with a total electorate of 1,55,071, comprises different castes and creed though Christians of different denominations are the largest community.