By Sanu George
Thiruvananthapuram: Like in the past, this time too quite a few interesting poll battles are lined up - more than a dozen in fact - for May 16 when the Kerala voters queue up to cast their vote. This time there are film stars pitted against one another, political veterans taking on one another, one-time friends battling against one another; and there are two TV journalists rivalling it out.
Though the fight in Kerala is mainly between the traditional rival fronts - the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), in a few constituencies there is a triangular contest, with the BJP-led NDA putting up a fight.
But the mother of all battles is taking place at Poonjar in Kottayam district, where it is a tough four-way contest. In at least 30 constituencies, it's a 3-way fight, reports The Indian Express.
Six-time legislator P.C. George, who has earlier been with both the traditional fronts and has now become a persona non grata for them, has decided to go it alone for the first time. George asserts he will win the seat.
Another battle never witnessed before in the state is at Pathanapuram in Kollam district, where the rival fronts have fielded veteran film stars.
For K.B. Ganesh Kumar, who is aiming for a fourth successive win, the only change is that this is the first time he is part of the LDF combination, moving out from the UDF. Taking him on is ace comedian Jagdish, the Congress candidate, while the BJP has fielded popular villain Bheemen Reghu.
The selection of Reporter TV channel journalist M.V. Nikesh Kumar by the CPI-M appears to be the biggest surprise. His father M.V. Raghavan till the '80s was the most firebrand CPI-M leader, and after being booted out of the party he has turned into its biggest enemy by becoming a minister on two occasions with the UDF.
Kumar is being fielded from Azhikode in Kannur district, the seat from where his father won in 1987 as a UDF ally. He is taking on sitting legislator K.M. Shaji of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), an ally of the UDF.
Kumar's colleague in the Reporter TV channel, Veena George, was another surprise choice by the CPI-M. She is taking on senior Congress legislator K. Sivadasan Nair at the Aranmula constituency in Pathanamthitta.
In the Kollam constituency, the CPI-M again sprang a surprise when it decided to drop its veteran CITU trade union leader and former minister P.K. Gurudasan. The party gave the seat to film star Mukesh, who is pitted against Sooraj Ravi, son of late legislator Thoppil Ravi, a close friend and party colleague of top Congress leaders like A.K. Antony, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and state Congress president V.M. Sudheeran.
Popular Congress leader, Raj Mohan Unnithan, who turned a film star late in his career and is known for his razor sharp tongue, is taking on former legislator and senior CPI-M leader J. Mercykutty in the Kundara constituency in Kollam.
For the Idukki seat, the fight is between three-time sitting legislator Roshy Augustine of the Kerala Congress (Mani), an ally of the UDF, and his party colleague till last month and former Lok Sabha member Francis George, who has formed a new party and joined the LDF.
The Thalassery seat in Kannur district - the seat that has seen veteran CPI-M leaders like former chief minister E.K. Nayanar and present party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan winning - will this time see two former friends in the CPI-M pitted against each other. Sitting Congress legislator from Kannur, A.P. Abdullahakutty (who quit CPI-M a few years back and joined the Congress) is taking on CPI-M youth leader A.N. Shamsheer.
Two other poll battles that appear to be closely watched by the BJP, which is yet to open its account in the 140-member Kerala assembly, is at Manjeswaram, the northernmost constituency in the state. Firebrand BJP leader K. Surendran, who finished in second place in the 2011 polls, is taking on sitting IUML legislator P.B. Abdul Razak.
The second one where the BJP is placing high hopes is in the Nemom constituency in the capital district where former union minister of state O. Rajagopal, a regular contestant in all elections since the BJP was formed in Kerala and who finished second in 2011 in Nemom, is being fielded. Rajagopal is taking on sitting legislator of the CPI-M V. Sivan Kutty.
At Thrissur, the home turf of former chief minister K. Karunakaran, his daughter Padmaja Venugopal is returning to active politics after a gap of 12 years and is taking on popular Communist Party of India (CPI) legislator V.S. Sunilkumar.
Another interesting constituency is Tripunithura in Ernakulam district where Congress Minister for Excise K. Babu, who came under a cloud in the bar scam, is taking on firebrand CPI-M youth leader M. Swaraj.
Besides these closely fought constituencies, the other glamour ones include where Chandy (Puthupally), CPI-M politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan (Dharmadom) and former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan (Malampuzha) are contesting and where the outcomes can easily be predicted.