Kollam: In Kerala, the most cracking battle of the Lok Sabha poll will in all likelihood be fought in Kollam, known for production of exotic cashew nuts.
The fight between friends-turned-foes Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member M.A. Baby and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader N.K. Premachandran is tipped to be the mother of all battles in the southern state.
If sitting legislator Baby, a tall figure in the party, surprised everyone after his candidature was announced, even before discussing this in the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), his newfound rival's arrival on the scene is even more baffling.
Premachandran was handed the Kollam seat, which the Congress had wrested in 2009 from the CPI-M after a gap of 18 years.
The RSP, an LDF ally for over three decades, is a new ally wooed by the Congress ahead of the general election. The United Democratic Front, of which the Congress is a part, has already blessed the RSP's entry into the ruling fold.
"Yes, we did not foresee that the RSP would take this sort of step," remarked Baby after Premachandran's arrival on the scene, perhaps knowing very well that things would heat up more the moment ally RSP decided to say goodbye to the LDF.
Incidentally, both Baby, 59, and Premachandran, 53, were cabinet colleagues in the V.S. Achuthanandan government (2006-11). And their articulation and conduct made them the darling of the TV news media, especially when it came to televised debates where they regularly slammed the UDF government.
But somewhere down the line, things went haywire and now they find themselves on either side of a volatile political fence, taking potshots at each other.
Baby represents the Kundara assembly constituency that comes under the Kollam Lok Sabha constituency known as the headquarters of Kerala's trade union movement. Kundara is home to numerous cashewnut factories and fishing accounts for the main occupation of the big chunk of the fishing community.
Party sources claim that Baby is banking on the support of this community to give a fitting reply to "deserter" Premachandran.
But Premachandran, known for his soft-spoken approach and as someone who rarely loses his temper, is confident that his past Lok Sabha poll victories in 1996 and 1998 will keep him in good stead.
His supporters also claim that Premachandran's record as an administrator when he held the water resources ministry 2006-11, especially the manner in which he handled the Mullaperiyar Dam crisis with Tamil Nadu, will also be a plus.
When asked, Premachandran defended his exit from the LDF, claiming the decision would be popularly vindicated.
"We had no option because the very organisation and existence of our party have been affected by the arbitrary decision of the CPI-M and hence we decided that we will leave the LDF. The people here see and know everything," said Premachandran.
Long known as a Left bastion, the Kollam seat finally fell to the Congress party's N. Peethambara Kurup in the 2009 polls by a margin of 17,531 votes. He defeated CPI-M trade union leader P. Rajendran, who was aiming for a hattrick of victories from Kollam.
Of the seven assembly constituencies that make up the Kollam Lok Sabha seat, the UDF has three (RSP-2) and the LDF has four lawmakers in the Kerala state assembly.
While the visible balance appears to tip in Premachandran's favour, Baby's high profile in the Left setup as a politburo member will make the battle not only edgy but one with high stakes.