Idukki: Battle of ballot between Congress-led ruling UDF and CPI-M headed LDF in Idukki Lok Sabha seat in Kerala has virtually become a referendum on the steps taken by the Oommen Chandy government to address concerns of people living in hilly areas on the contentious report on Western Ghats conservation.
The high range areas of the constituency, the land of spices, which saw a spate of agitations against the report, is witnessing a tight contest between Congress candidate and State Youth Congress President Dean Kuriakose and LDF-independent Joice George, both law graduates and debutants in electoral politics.
Political undercurrents over the report are evident from the fact that Congress desisted from re-nominating sitting MP P T Thomas, who incurred the wrath of the Catholic church for favouring the Western Ghats report, and has gone in for a new face.
Thomas won the seat last time with a huge margin of more than 74,000 votes.
Congress shortlisted Kuriakose, a member of the Rahul Gandhi brigade in the state, to take on Joice George, the legal adviser to the High Range Protection Council, spearheading the agitation against the report with the active support of a section of local church.
In a bid to wrest the seat from Congress, CPI-M actually adopted George after the High Range Protection Council named him as their candidate.
Settler farmers in the area are deeply worried about the report as they fear that the recommendations including restrictions on human activities in the so-called Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) would adversely affect their livelihood and even lead to displacement.
Under pressure from state government and congress leadership, Centre came out with a fresh draft notification addressing grievances of upland settlers as the issue continues to be a major campaign plank of the opposition.
Protesters have not taken seriously Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's repeated assurances that no farmer will be displaced and that the fear over the issue is unwarranted.
The constituency, which has nearly 40% Christian voters and a large number of Tamil speaking plantation workers, has a tradition of favouring Congress for two decades. But how the political tide will turn this time is keenly watched in the prevailing context.