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|February 17, 1998|
A triangular contest
Union Minister of State for Labour M P Veerendrakumar is making a determined bid to win re-election to the Lok Sabha from this Muslim-dominated constituency.
Kozhikode constituency, which comprises seven assembly segments, is a Congress bastion. It has returned the party candidate three times since 1984. But this time, it will see a triangular contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and the Janata Dal,.
Veerendrakumar, the high profile Dal nominee with a master's degree in business administration from Cincinnati university in the United States, is a seasoned politician whose has spent more than 40 years in public life.
Supported by the ruling Left Democratic Front, the media baron -- he runs the Mathrubhumi newspaper -- seems confident that his ministerial stint as well as the corruption-free image of the short-lived I K Gujral government will help him win. Besides, he believes his qualifications will weigh in his favour among the electorate in Kerala, which has the country's highest literacy rate.
The main challenge to Veerendrakumar, who is the state Dal chief, is from Congress nominee P Sankaran, who is backed by the United Democratic Front, the Opposition, and the BJP.
Sankaran, a lawyer and the district Congress chief, can bank on the recent show of unity in the Kerala party unit. Public opinion, he says, is in his favour, especially after Sonia Gandhi took the reins of the party's election campaign.
Though the Congress central election committee toyed with the idea of fielding former Union minister K P Unnikrishnan -- and a six time winner from neighbouring Badgara -- from Kozhikode, the combined opposition of Sankaran's supporters in the state unit settled the issue.
As far as the BJP is concerned, though the party has fielded its candidates in all the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, special importance is being attached to Kasaragod, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram, where it is expected to do well.
The party had secured 56,942 votes in Kozhikode last election, and expects to win the seat in the light of the growing all-India support for the party, state BJP president Sreedharan Pillai said.
Kozhikode has an electorate of 194,314, nearly 3.3 per cent more than what it had in 1996. Women voters outnumber men here, as is the case almost throughout the state.
Although Kozhikode is still a backward area with not many industries around other than the traditional tile and timber units and coffee plantations, some of the panchayats in the constituency earned national attention for their impressive performance.
Veerendrakumar -- who wrested the seat from Congress veteran K Karunakaran's son K Muralidharan, by 38,833 votes -- had gained a majority in five of the seven assembly segments in the 1996 election.
The two segments where he trailed, included his native Kalpetta assembly constituency, represented by Congress leader K K Ramachandran Master in the state assembly.
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