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February 18, 1998


Professors roll up their sleeves in Mavelikkara

Mavelikkara in the Christian-dominated central Thiruvananthapuram region of Kerala could see a straight fight between five-time winner and former Union minister P J Kurien and a liberation theologian, Dr Ninan Koshy, an Independent fielded by the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front. There are three other candidates in the fray, all preparing for polling on February 28.

And there is nothing academic about the battles of the two professors, one a professor of physics and the other a professor of English with a doctorate in theology.

Kurien, who has been elected thrice from the constituency, exudes confidence now that he taking on Ninan Koshy, a Christian activist of note.

Mavelikkara comprises seven assembly segments: Aranmula, Chengannur, Kallooppara, Kayamkulam, Mavelikkara, Pandalam and Thiruvalla. The constituency covers part of Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta districts and has an electorate of 889,036 as on January 1.

In keeping with the overall trend in Kerala, women voters outnumber men in Mavelikkara too. A special feature of the constituency is that non-resident Indians account for a substantial percentage of the local population, most of them working in Europe, America, Canada and the Gulf.

Mavelikkara has a high literacy rate -- 85 per cent of the males and 82 per cent of the females are literate.

In 1996, the Congress-led United Democratic Front won in the Chengannur, Mavelikkara and Thiruvalla assembly constituencies and the Left Democratic Front in Aranmula, Kallooppara, Kayamkulam and Pandalam. Kurien entered the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1980 when he trounced M R Thevally Madhavan Pillai of the National Democratic Party, the political wing of the Nair Service Society. He was fielded by the Antony faction of the Congress which was then a constituent of the LDF.

In 1984, Kurien shifted to Idukki which he won for the UDF by a record 136,000 votes. In Mavelikkara, however, the LDF candidate, Thampan Thomas of the Janata Party, defeated UDF nominee Upendranatha Kurup by 1,287 votes.

Kurien returned to Mavelikkara in 1989 and defeated Thampan Thomas by 57,182 votes. He won again in 1991, beating Suresh Kurup of the Communist Party of India-Marxist by 27,000 votes. In 1996 Kurien managed to win again from Mavelikkara, despite the odds against the Congress, what with the LDF using the Suryanelli sex scandal as the main campaign issue. Then he defeated the CPI-M's M R Gopalakrishnan by his lowest ever margin, 21,076 votes.

Kurien, 56, is from Pallath Paduthode house, traditionally a farmer's family from Vennikkulam. He is quick to come down to meet voters in person. And every time he does, he reels out a list of what he has done for Kerala, and central Thiruvananthapuram in particular. This includes the Kayamkulam thermal power plant, the Chengannur engineering college, the Navodaya Vidyalaya at Chennithala, the help he extended to NRI Malayalis when he was Union minister, and the development in telecommunications and railways. Currently he hopes to cash in on the anger at the steep fall in rubber prices that the farmers of the area are facing.

Though he is a novice in politics, Dr Koshy, 64, has his own appeal. With a clean image and a wide circle of friends, he could split the Christian vote bank. His campaign lays much stress on stability, security social justice and national unity.

Dr Koshy is from Mundiappally village, 10 km away from Kurien's village. He has been a visiting fellow at the Harvard law school and served as international affairs secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. He has written half-a-dozen books, both in Malayalam and in English. He did his Ph D at Serampur University and worked as an English teacher at the Changanacherry S B College, Thiruvalla Mar Thoma College, Mottayam C M S College and Mavelikkara Bishopmoore College.

Kurien belongs to the Mar Thoma church whose members outnumber those of other Christian sects in central Thiruvananthapuram, while Dr Koshy comes from the Church of South India, which has around 20,000 voter members.

Also fighting for the seat is Rajan Moolaveettil from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which secured 45,325 votes in 1996. Moolaveettil is president of the Alappuzha district BJP unit. But his chances are, to put it kindly, rather slim.

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