UDF optimistic about LS polls with Rahul's presence in Wayanad and strong candidate lineup

UDF hopeful of replicating 2019 victory in LS polls with Rahul's presence and strong candidate lineup
Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi

Thiruvananthapuram | With the presence of Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad and the candidature of AICC General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal as well as all the sitting MPs, except T N Prathapan in Thrissur, the Congress-led UDF in Kerala is hopeful of replicating its 2019 victory in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

"We will win 20 out of 20 seats in Kerala," Venugopal announced in New Delhi, soon after the party declared its candidates for the 16 constituencies in which Congress is contesting in the election.

The constituents of the Congress-led UDF will contest the four other seats, with the Indian Union Muslim League fielding candidates from two segments and Kerala Congress (Joseph) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) one each.

In the 2019 polls, the UDF secured 19 of Kerala's 20 Lok Sabha seats, although this number was subsequently reduced to 18 when the Kerala Congress (M), previously part of the UDF, shifted allegiance to the CPI(M)-led LDF after winning the Kottayam seat.

Venugopal, a Rajya Sabha member from Rajasthan, has been nominated from the Alappuzha Lok Sabha seat, the sole constituency won by the CPI(M) in the 2019 polls. Sitting MP A M Ariff and BJP's firebrand leader Sobha Surendran are his main rivals.

CWC member Shashi Tharoor, KPCC chief K Sudhakaran, former PCC chief K Muraleedharan, and former Union Minister Kodikkunnil Suresh are the key figures in the AICC's recently announced candidate list in New Delhi.

Senior CPI leader Annie Raja is the ruling Left candidate from Wayanad seat, which was won by Rahul Gandhi with a margin of over four lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Confirming earlier speculations, sitting MP Muraleedharan from Vatakara has been nominated to contest from Thrissur following a last-minute twist.

With Muraleedharan's candidacy in Thrissur, the Central Kerala constituency is set for a fierce battle, as the BJP has nominated actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi -- known for being close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- in the hope of securing the seat and ending the party's electoral dry spell in the southern state.

Meanwhile, the ruling Left has put forward former minister and CPI leader V S Sunil Kumar as their candidate in Thrissur.

The Congress's strategic move to field Muraleedharan from Thrissur, once a stronghold of his late father Congress stalwart K Karunakaran, came just a day after his sister and party leader Padmaja Venugopal defected to the BJP.

T N Prathapan, the current Congress MP from Thrissur, was denied a ticket.

Additionally, former Youth Congress president and Palakkad MLA Shafi Parambil has been chosen to contest from Vatakara, in the hope of retaining the seat currently held by Muraleedharan.

Tharoor, who has been fielded from Thiruvananthapuram, has been serving as the Member of Parliament from the capital city segment since 2009, before which he was an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

During the Congress-led UPA government, Tharoor served as Minister of State for External Affairs. In the 2019 LS polls he received over four lakh votes and won by a margin of nearly one lakh votes.

Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar (BJP) and CPI leader and former MP Pannian Raveendran (LDF) are his rivals in the contest for Thiruvananthapuram.

K Sudhakaran, the Kannur strongman of the Congress, is the president of its Kerala unit and an MP from the north Kerala constituency.

He won the LS polls from Kannur in 2009 and 2019. He is also a four-time MLA from Kannur. However, Sudhakaran has been named as a co-accused in a cheating case at present, in which controversial self-styled antiques dealer Monson Mavunkal is the prime accused.

CPI(M) leader M V Jayarajan is his main rival in the north Kerala constituency.

K Muraleedharan, who has been fielded from Thrissur, was elected as an MP from Kozhikode constituency in 1989, 1991 and 1999 and from Vatakara constituency in 2019. A former chief of the KPCC, Muraleedharan was also a two-time MLA -- 2011 and 2016.

Muraleedharan had in the past left the Congress to be a part of the Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran) and then later joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). He returned to the Congress in 2011.

Fielded from Mavelikkara Lok Sabha seat, Kodikkunnil Suresh, a former union minister, has a longstanding political career. He secured his first election to the Lok Sabha in 1989 and continued to be re-elected in the subsequent general elections of 1991, 1996, and 1999, representing the Adoor constituency.

However, he faced defeat in the 1998 and 2004 elections. Throughout his tenure, he served as a member of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee and the All India Congress Committee (AICC).

In the 2009 general election, he reclaimed his position in the Lok Sabha by defeating R S Anil of the CPI with a significant margin of 48,048 votes. In 2014, he once again emerged victorious by defeating Chengara Surendran of the Communist Party of India, and currently holds the position of Member of Parliament representing the Mavelikkara constituency.

Venugopal, the AICC General Secretary (Organisation), entered active politics through the Kerala Students Union (KSU), the student wing of the INC. A protégé of Congress stalwart K Karunakaran, Venugopal rose to prominence as the state president of the KSU and Youth Congress.

He successfully contested and won the Kerala Legislative Assembly elections from the Alappuzha Constituency in 1996, 2001 and 2006. During the tenure of Oommen Chandy as chief minister from 2004 to 2006, he held the portfolios of Minister for Dewaswom and Tourism.

In both the 2009 and 2014 general elections, he ran for the Lok Sabha from the Alappuzha constituency and secured a victory with a substantial margin. He also served as a minister of state in the UPA-II government, headed by Manmohan Singh.

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