Will it be a cakewalk for Indian Union Muslim League state unit general secretary P K Kunhalikutty in the newly-carved Vengara assembly segment in Kerala's [ Images ] Muslim heartland Malappuram?
If the initial trends are any indication, he is expected to have a smooth sailing in the April 13 polls, putting behind his upset defeat from adjacent Kuttippuram in 2006.
A central player of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, personal allegations and controversies have always haunted Kunhalikutty, but he has carried forward with grit and support from his party's leadership and members.
As ways of electoral politics are unpredictable, the League leader was defeated in 2006 by his disciple K T Jaleel, who had crossed over to the rival Left Democratic Front camp. Kunhalikutty's main opponent this time is K P Ismail of the LDF-backed Indian National League, a debutant in electoral battle.
Undeterred by IUML's mighty presence in the segment, Ismail has mounted a fierce campaign with the help of Communist Party of India [ Images ] - Marxist cadre.
Having completed his first round of canvassing, Ismail said he would upset UDF's apple cart as voters would not be lured by the 'honey coated' promises of IUML leaders.
The resurfacing of the ice cream parlour sex case, in which Kunhalikutty was allegedly involved, is being used as a weapon against him by the LDF in the campaign.
The case relates to allegations in late 1990s that an ice cream parlour in Kozhikode was used as a cover to lure young women into sex rackets, following which Kunhalikutty quit as industries minister in the 2004 UDF government.
Though Kunhalikutty has never been made an accused in the case, the scam hit the headlines again in recent months when a relative of the IUML leader claimed that he had helped the League leader wriggle out of the legal tangles.
The development had cast doubts about Kunhalikutty contesting the polls. But the support from the party leadership and rank and file helped him overcome the crisis.
Interestingly, it was a television channel, whose director board is headed by Kunhalikutty's party colleague and former minister Dr M K Muneer, which beamed most of the stories on the ice cream parlour case.
The issue was initially feared to have caused deep divisions in IUML but the rift had been patched up. Muneer is contesting the elections from Kozhikode.
Overcoming the severe drubbing it received in 2006 polls, IUML has made a comeback as the central political entity in Malappuram district, putting up an impressive show in the Lok Sabha and civic polls since then.
The second largest component in the UDF after the Congress, IUML is contesting 21 seats this time, most of which are in Malappuram itself.
"We have no doubt that we will sweep the entire area this time. Kunhalikutty will emerge victorious with a thumping margin," IUML district president Panakkad Syid Sadiq Ali Thangal told PTI.
A leader who has come up from the grassroots, Kunhalikutty had held the industries portfolio in the previous UDF regimes.
Handpicked by the late Panakkad Syid Muhammadali Shihab Thangal, Kunhalikutty became Malappuram municipal chairman when he was 27. He has since then contested seven elections and has been defeated only once.
"Our objective will be to increase the margin of victory. The UDF will sweep the polls as the people are fed up with the anti-people rule of the CPI-M-led LDF," Kunhalikutty said.
Being the most populous district in Kerala, Malappuram will be sending the largest number of representatives to the assembly, with the number of segments increasing from 12 to 16 this time due to demographic reasons.
The Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ] has put up its local leader P Subramanyan in the segment.