Muraleedharan was named for Nemom in the Congress list of candidates released on Sunday, after the party built up a suspense over who it will field to “wrest back the seat” from the BJP. Kummanam Rajasekharan, former Mizoram governor and party state president from 2015-18, is the new BJP candidate in Nemom.
Muraleedharan, son of former Kerala CM, the late K Karunakaran, had contested the 2016 state polls from the nearby Vattiyoorkavu constituency where he defeated Kummanam Rajasekharan comfortably.
He was drafted into the party’s Lok Sabha campaign in 2019 to take on CPI(M)’s P Jayarajan in its stronghold Vatakara, and he obliged the party leadership by winning comfortably as the Congress-led alliance went on to drub the Left 19-1.
Nemom, in the outskirts of state capital Thiruvananthapuram, is represented in the outgoing assembly by veteran BJP leader O Rajagopal who has been the only big saffron success ever in the state.
Fielding the highly combative Muraleedharan will help the Congress in its optics of taking on the BJP, besides giving a fillip to the campaign of the Opposition United Democratic Front ( UDF) in a race which, according to opinion polls, is now led by the ruling Left.
The names of former chief minister Oommen Chandy and leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala were doing the rounds initially, but both later cited commitments to their home constituencies .
Puthupally – the constituency in Kottayam which Chandy has represented for five decades – had over the weekend witnessed hundreds of workers demonstrating against any move to shift him out; while Chennithala was quoted as saying Haripad constituency was like a “mother” to him.
Nemom was won by the Congress in 2001 and 2006, before it gave the seat to minor alliance partners in the next two elections, sparking allegations from the Left that it was deliberately leaving the field open to a strong candidate of the BJP.
What gave heft to the charges was that the UDF candidates won only 17.3% and 9.7% of the votes there in 2011 and 2016 against Rajagopal, while the CPI(M) candidate V Sivankutty scored consistently around 42%.
The ruling Left Democratic Front has again fielded Sivankutty, a former Thiruvananthapuram mayor and the winner in 2011, setting the stage for high-profile triangular contest which will be among the most followed in the elections to be held on April 6.
The LDF and UDF have ruled Kerala alternately over the last few decades with the BJP a distant third, and both the main rivals have at times accused each other of cutting underhand deals with the saffron party on specific seats.