The rise of Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan after last week's dramatic developments in Communist Party of India-Marxist as the undisputed captain of Left Democratic Front in the April 13 assembly polls in Kerala once again is expected to make the contest tougher for Congress-led United Democratic Front.
The UDF has been on a strong wicket after its splendid performance in the last Lok Sabha and civic polls, but the political complexion has taken a new turn with CPI-M deciding to bring back the 87-year-old Achuthanandan into the arena.
In a virtual replay of the 2006 poll-eve power-play in the faction-ridden CPI-M in the state, Achuthanandan was first denied ticket by the group led by his rival and state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan but the decision was reversed under pressure from the central leadership and public outcry.
The development is seen by observers as acknowledgement of the popularity of Achuthanandan, whose absence as the pivot of the LDF would have seriously dented the Left combine's bid to break the cyclic pattern of rival fronts coming to power every five years.
Though the turn of events came as an embarrassment for the "official faction" in the party, Vijayan himself had to admit that 'undoubtedly V S is our undisputed leader' while announcing the Chief Minister's candidature for the CPI-M bastion of Malampuzha in Palakkad district.
Congress leaders were quick enough to dismiss the return of Achuthanandan to the centre stage as a "mere drama" and a "futile attempt" to corner votes in a losing electoral battle.
What makes his presence important for the LDF is that he could turn the poll debate into issues he has been campaigning for nearly a decade, regardless of whether as opposition leader or Chief Minister.
The new turn in the palmolein import graft case with the prosecution seeking further probe to allegedly drag Congress's chief ministerial probable Oommen Chandy into it and imprisonment of former minister KC (B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a corruption case are certain to be used by Achuthanandan as he has pursued these cases for years now.
LDF constituents, especially its second largest partner CPI, has welcomed the decision to go to polls under Achuthanandan's leadership.
They had feared that dumping Achuthanandan itself would have been seized on by the UDF as a weapon against the LDF.
Apart from the state-specific issues, the LDF campaign will also be seizing on the "WikiLeaks" revelations to put the Congress in the dock.
UDF leaders, however, refused to be awed by the tenacity with which Achuthanandan is gearing up to hit the campaign trail. "Who leads the LDF is immaterial for us. It is their problem. We are fighting the LDF governments failure on all fronts," said Chandy reacting to the recent turn of events.
Echoing similar sentiments, state Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala said, "What happened was a drama plotted and enacted by CPI-M leadership to boost their sagging fortunes, but voters are wise enough to understand such tricks."
However, the UDF campaign managers in different parts of the state admit that the situation is not as easy as thought initially. "Going by the outcome of the 2009 Parliament polls and last year's local body elections, the UDF has a clear lead in about 100 of the 140 assembly segments in the state. But we have to work hard if we want to reach that tally this time as situation and issues have slightly changed", a Congress functionary from a northern district said.