Kochi: A battle royale is shaping up in the sleepy little town of Piravom near Kochi in Kerala. Though the assembly by-election here on March 17 would see a clash between two rivals who go by the same surname of Jacob, the real fight appears to be between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his predecessor V.S. Achuthanadan.
The by-election follows the death of T.M. Jacob, sitting legislator from Piravom and food and civil supplies minister. T.M. Jacob was the lone legislator of his party Kerala Congress (Jacob), an ally of the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
His son Anup Jacob, 34, is taking on his father's old rival M.J. Jacob of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. In the 2006 assembly polls, T.M. Jacob, in an electoral career stretching close to three decades, tasted his first defeat at the hands of M.J. Jacob. In 2011, T.M. Jacob beat his rival.
Chandy announced that the verdict in the by-election later this month will be like a referendum on the performance of his nine-month-old government. "This is going to be a test on how my government has worked since taking over in May last year and I accept this as a challenge," said Chandy.
In the 140-member assembly, the Chandy-led front has a wafer-thin majority of three more than the half-way mark.
The UDF expects that Achuthanandan magic would not work, as he has been named as an accused in a land transfer case. His son Arun Kumar's appointment as director of a state-run IT academy has also come under the scanner. An assembly panel's report on the issue is expected next week.
But veteran communist Achuthanandan seems unfazed. "All that I want to say to Jacob's son Anup is that not long ago his father termed Chandy as the most corrupt politician and the situation remains the same even now," said Achuthanandan at an election meeting in Piravom.
In the 2011 assembly polls, T.M. Jacob won with a thin margin of 157 votes and the Left is hopeful of winning the battle in the by-election.
State Congress president Ramesh Chennithala admitted that all was not well in their camp when Anup's father won the election with a low margin. "That situation no longer exists and things are smooth and fine in the UDF. Moreover, this is an opportunity for people to make a comparison between the previous Achuthanandan government and the nine-month-old Chandy government," said Chennithala.
The UDF is also looking forward to a whirlwind campaign by Defence Minister A.K. Antony in Piravom. Anup's father was a part of Antony's cabinet in the state.
Former minister and active campaigner in Piravom, Jose Thettayil, a legislator of the Janata Dal-Secular, a part of the Left front, said that the election would set the ball rolling not only for getting a new minister but also for a new government.