April 2021
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74.02 per cent polling registered in Kerala, polling peaceful
Thiruvananthapuram: Brisk polling, which was "absolutely peaceful", was witnessed in the fiercely fought Kerala Assembly election on Tuesday with a 74.02 per cent voter turnout, even as minor skirmishes and allegations of bogus voting were reported from a few places. The election to 140 assembly seats was "absolutely peaceful, free and fair", Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena told PTI. On the allegations of bogus voting raised by some political parties,the CEO said the commission has not received any such reports as of now. But some people might have tried and their numbers may be "very very negligible", he said. He also thanked the people of Kerala and all officials who cooperated with the commission, especially the web casting team, headed by additional CEO, Sanjay Kaul.

Nemom, the lone seat won by the BJP in the 2016 assembly polls, Dharmadom, Thaliparamba, Mattanur and Kazkakootam, were among the segments which witnessed heavy polling. Kerala has an electorate of 2.74 crore and 957 candidates were in the fray. Prominent among them were Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, 11 of his cabinet colleagues, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy, former Union minister K J Alphons, ''Metroman'' ESreedharan, BJP state president K Surendran and nine film and TV personalities. Among the debutants,88-year-old Sreedharan, who contested from Palakkad on a BJP ticket was the oldest and 26-year-old Aritha Babu of Congress from Kayamkulam, the youngest. Even as the state witnessed heavy footfall of voters in the earlier half of the day, incessant rains in central Kerala showed a dip in polling percentage.

Two voters, including a woman in a queue in Aranmula in Pathnamthitta and Chavittuavary in Kottayam reportedly collapsed and died. Tempers ran high at Kattayikonam in Kazhakootam constituency,a Marxist party stronghold in Thiruvananthapuram district, as CPI(M) and BJP workers clashed. Four BJP workers were injured and their car was damaged. Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran,the LDF candidate from the constituency, told reporters that the aim of the protestors was to disrupt the voting and alleged that police had acted as "BJP agents". Three Marxist workers, including the minister''s personal staff, were taken into custody. He alleged that the BJP workers had reached Kattayikonam in two cars and attacked CPI(M) workers, including a ward councilor and said he would file a complaint with the Election Commission and DGP. A polling officer at Thalavady in Kuttanad''s Alappuzha district did not turn up for duty on Monday evening, following which another official had to be deployed, EC sources said.

Police said they had received a ''man missing case'' complaint and on investigation, found that the official was at his residence and had reportedly ''overslept''. The election was crucial for an array of BJP leaders, including former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajashekharan, Sreedharan,state BJP chief K Surendran, who contested from two constituencies,senior leader Shobha Surendran, Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi and former union minister K J Alphons. The saffron party has claimed that it will emerge as a third prominent front in Kerala, where traditionally the CPI (M)-led LDF and Congress-led UDF have been retaining power. The poll outcome is equally significant for Kerala Congress(M) leader Jose K Mani, who recently switched alliance to the LDF after leaving the United Democratic Front.

The political fronts-- the ruling Left Democratic Front, UDF and BJP-led NDA have claimed that this election will be ''crucial'' and a ''turning point" for the southern state, which Vijayan had earlier described as the last fort of secularism. Even as LDF vainly tried to keep the Sabarimala women''s entry issue in the backseat, the opposition kept up the heat on the CPI(M) by vigorously attacking the government Kerala had witnessed violent protests by right wing activists after the LDF government decided to implement the 2018 Supreme Court verdict, allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, where traditionally women in the menstrual age group of 10-50 are barred from offering worship. The Sabarimala issue resonated on polling day also with various leaders stating that the outcome will be the result of the fight between believers and non believers, even as the CM maintained that Lord Ayyappa and other gods were with the LDF.

However, the Congress and the Nair Service Society, a prominent caste based organisation, attacked Vijayan, saying he will faceAyyappa''s wrath, prompting Law minister A K Balan to file a complaint with the Election Commission. Besides the Sabarimala issue, the opposition had levelled various corruption charges against the government, including the Gold smuggling and Dollar cases, now being probed by various central agencies, including Enforcement Directorate, Customs department and National Investigation Agency. M Sivasankar, Former principal secretary to the CM, was arrested in the cases and was later released on bail. In the fag end of the campaign, Congress raised a scam related to a contract for deep sea fishing to a US-based company, a charge rejected by the government, which said the MoU was cancelled.

The state witnessed a never before fierce contest between the LDF, UDF and the BJP-NDA during the campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home minister Amit Shah, various union ministers,including Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, among others, visiting the state to campaign for the saffron party. Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi made multiple visits to various constituencies, hoping to revive the party machinery. Vijayan singlehandedly led the campaign for the LDF, even as party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and senior leaders Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and CPI leader D Raja, among others, campaigned extensively. The massive election exercise involving over two lakh polling officers began at 7 AM, adhering to strict COVID-19 health protocol and was extended by one hour to 7 PM for the COVID patients and those in quarantine.

Vijayan''s daughter, Veena, who tested positive for the virus, came to the polling booth wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kit. The LDF is confident of riding back to power after the results are declared on May 2, banking on its various welfare schemes and development projects, while the UDF, which had raised various corruption allegations against the government, is hoping that its efforts would bear fruit. The BJP-NDA is hopeful that it would win more seats this election and a third front will become a reality . The Assembly election in 2016 saw a 77.53 per cent voter turnout, while the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 saw a participation of 77.84 per cent electors. In the 2016 Assembly elections, LDF rode to power with 91 seats, while UDF garnered 47. BJP got one seat while an independent, P C George, won one.

The Chief Minister, seeking re-election from Dharmadom in Kannur, expressed confidence that the LDF would be voted back to power and register a ''historical'' win. The BJP account in Nemom, the solitary seat won by the saffron party in the 2016 polls, will be ''closed'', he said. Malayalam superstar Mammooty, actors Suresh Gopi, Fahad Fasil and Dileep were among the early voters. To ensure smooth polling, central forces were deployed in 549 critical location booths and 433 vulnerable polling booths in the state.

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