Kerala parties race to clinch seat-sharing deals

Thiruvananthapuram: As Kerala is set to go for Assembly polls on April 13, the ruling CPI (M)-led LDF and UDF headed by Congress have to race against time to finalise seat-sharing exercise among their partners.

CPI-M`s politburo and central committee are to meet in Delhi later this week to discuss important issues, including the question of fielding party veteran and Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan again as the LDF captain.

According to party sources here, the meet would decide who should lead the party and the front among the top-ranking leaders from the state, in case 87-year-old Achuthanandan is withdrawn from the electoral fray.

CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and state Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan are the other two politburo members from Kerala apart from S Ramahcnandran Pillai.

In case Achuthanandan opts out or is pulled out from the electoral contest, the mantle of leadership would fall either on Vijayan or Balakrishnan.

The seat-sharing exercise in LDF may not be a hard task as it does not have any new ally on board, as is the case with UDF since the last Assembly elections.

Barring CPI (M) and CPI, the LDF does not have any component which has an active presence across the state.

This would mean, according to CPI (M) sources, that a large chunk of seats would go to the lead partner followed by the CPI and other allies like RSP, Kerala Congress (Thomas faction) and the Congress-S.

However, seat-sharing would not be a smooth affair in UDF, where Kerala Congress (Mani faction) is expected to bargain hard for more seats than allotted last time.

K C(M) leader, K M Mani, has pushed his claim on the ground that the party`s support base in the Christian heartland of Central Travancore region has expanded with the KC (Joseph) faction merging with it about a year back.

The Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest constituent in the UDF, would also demand a couple of more seats this time on the plea that the number of Assembly segments has increased due to demographic reasons in its core political turf, Malappuram, in north Kerala.

UDF has also to accommodate the SJD, formed by the Janata Dal faction led by former Union Minister M P Veerendrakumar, after breaking away from LDF during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Another irritant for the Congress is the JSS, led by the grandold lady of Kerala politics, K R Gowry Amma, who left the CPI (M) and floated her outfit some 15 years back.

In 2006, LDF bagged 98 seats and UDF 42 in the 140-member state Assembly.

But compositions of the rival coalition have changed since then with a section of the JD(S), Kerala Congress and an independent deserting the LDF. A faction of the INL, which supported LDF in 2006, is also set to join the UDF by merging it with IUML.

Guided by its sterling performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and civic elections last year, the UDF is confident of capturing power. But it is faced with "problems of plenty," with even minor allies asking for more seats.

After finalising the seat-sharing, choosing its contestants would also be a delicate exercise for the Congress as the party has to keep regional, religious, caste and even group considerations in mind while drawing the final list.

Congress leaders, however, said this is not a big issue as it is not the first time that the party is required to do the "balancing act".

A distant third always in Kerala`s bipolar polity, the BJP is putting up its best efforts to break its electoral jinx this time, by concentrating on a few select segments where its popular faces like former Union minister O Rajagopal will be fielded.