Palakkad: The heat of the electoral battle in Palakkad is as intense as the high summer scorching the vast rural constituency where Socialist Janata Democratic leader and former Union Minister M P Veerendrakumar from the Congress-led UDF is locked in a fierce combat with sitting CPI(M) MP M B Rajesh.
A Left bastion which has sent to Parliament Marxist veterans like A K Gopalan and E K Nayanar, Palakkad had also favoured the Congress occasionally.
BJP has fielded its firebrand woman face Sobha Surendran, who has put her heart and soul into the campaign, refusing to be disheartened by her party's dismal showing in previous elections.
While Rajesh, also national president of CPI(M)'s youth wing DYFI, has the advantage of being the sitting MP and a native of Palakkad, Veerendrakumar is also well known to the voters as a Socialist stalwart, activist, writer, orator and helmsman of a leading media house.
For long a loyal partner of the LDF, the Janata Dal faction led by Veerendrakumar left the Front on the eve of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls following ruptured relations with CPI(M) over allocation of a seat to the party. He later formed SJD, which became a constituent of the Congress-led UDF before the 2011 Assembly polls and now a partner in the coalition ministry headed by Oommen Chandy.
According to UDF circles, the Congress allotted the seat it unsuccessfully contested last time to the SJD more because of Veerendrakumar's stature and personal accomplishments than on the strength of his party in the area.
So, the Congress has taken up the battle in Palakkad as a prestigious one and geared up its ranks to work hard for the UDF victory.
"The constituency has not been cared well by the CPI(M) MPs it returned in the past elections. Basic amenities like drinking water is still an issue here. No sincere efforts had been made in getting central funds and even the local development funds of the MP was not properly utilised," Veerendrakumar said.
Despite CPI-M's organisational might, Rajesh had scraped through with a slender margin of 1800 votes over his Congress rival in 2009, which was attributed to factionalism in the party. CPI(M) in Palakkad was then seriously afflicted by feud between the Pinarayi Vijayan and V S Achuthanandan factions.
A group of rebels had even left the party and floated a parallel forum and worked against the LDF. But that group has since then returned to the CPI(M) making the party organisationally stronger and united.
Not only its history but the current political profile of the constituency is advantageous to the LDF. Four of the seven Assembly segments falling under the Lok Saba seat were won by the LDF in 2011 Assembly polls and three went the UDF way.
But the UDF strategists are not willing to go by statistics alone holding that election results are determined by factors that emerge prominently in a given situation, which they see are favourable to the Congress and its allies at the Centre and in the state.
An astute campaigner who has seen many an electoral battle, Veerendrakumar himself said the response of the voters had been extremely encouraging.
"The mood of the people is that they are looking for a change. This was evident from their response wherever I went," the Socialist stalwart, who has reached out to even the remotest corner of the constituency braving the scorching heat.
"National issues like threat to secularism posed by BJP under Narendra Modi are also before the people of this politically-alert constituency," Veerendrakumar said.
"Apart from these, the arrogance of the CPI(M) is an issue. The LDF has eroded itself due to the high-handedness of the CPI(M) and the latest instance is the desertion of the RSP, reducing the alliance into a mere partnership of the CPI(M) and the CPI," he said.
But Rajesh, whose campaign has been planned in an orderly manner by connecting all tiers of the party organisation, rejected the rival's charge as totally unfounded.
"The records are there to show what I have done as a MP. It is on the basis of my work for my constituency and my interventions in Parliament that I am seeking a fresh mandate," Rajesh told PTI on the sidelines of a street-corner meeting at Pathamkulam, a Muslim dominated village in Ananganadi panchayat.