Ground Report: Vadakara promises a photo finish as ‘rock star’ takes on youthful exuberance

As the electoral battleground of Vadakara bristles with anticipation and fervor, the contest is poised to unfold with all the drama and intensity befitting a high-stakes political spectacle.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Apr 24, 2024 | 5:14 PMUpdatedApr 24, 2024 | 5:27 PM

Vadakara Ground Report

The clanking of metal drowned parts of the incessant oral commands heard from the kalari, which now has more students, thanks to the summer holidays.

Other martial arts forms, too, have caught the fancy of youngsters in Vadakara, known for the vadakkan style of Kalarippayattu.

Boards of dojos now abound in the town, the high-pitched kiai yells of karatekas and xue-tus, or kung-fu students, rising over the constant urban din.

Folklores sing the goosebump-evoking tales of Kalari heroes and heroines, who flew like angry peacocks and swooped down on the opponent on Kalaritharas — the platform where scheduled duels took place — with the speed and ferocity of sharp-taloned eagles with flesh-tearing pointed beaks.

Ground Report: A political thriller unfolds in Thrissur Lok Sabha seat

Picture in contrast

The sandbanks of Vadakara, too, have many kalari tales of sweat, prudence, valour, blood, and vengeance, to tell.

Vadakara’s sandbanks have many a tale to tell. (South First)

A little away from the banks stands the Lokanarkavu Temple at Memunda, silently witnessing the passage of time unaffected by human emotions.

The famed Thacholi Tharavaadu — family house — is on the way to the temple. Che Guevara smiled from the faded few posters that had weathered the vagaries of nature.

The posters reflected a contract between the bygone feudal days when chekavars — hired warriors — hacked each other and shed blood on kalaritharas to settle scores on behalf of the upper-caste landlords, and a post-1947 democratic land.

Vadakara has once again come under the grip of a payattu — or fight — fever of a different kind. It is as exciting as the kalarippayattu itself, as two MLAs from rival formations fight for supremacy in a race heading for an apparent photo finish.

One of them — KK Shailaja, internationally lauded as a rock star for her deft handling of the Covid-19 situation, or Shafi Parambil, who had a thrilling win against Metroman E Sreedharan of the BJP in the 2021 Assembly election — will fall, only to rise again.

Related: BJP projecting candidates as Union ministers won’t pay off: Sunil Kumar

Political Kalari

In the pulsating political battleground of Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency, the stage is set for a clash that would be nothing short of an epic.

The Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency has a sizable Muslim population. (South First)

The Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency has a sizable Muslim population. (South First)

With the polling day an earshot away, the air crackled with anticipation as two sitting MLAs braced themselves for an electrifying showdown.

The Lok Sabha constituency, comprising seven Assembly segments that spread across Kozhikode and Kannur districts, shares its boundary with Mahe, a district in the Union Territory of Puducherry.

The Assembly segments of Vadakara, Kuttiyadi, Nadapuram, Koyilandi, and Perambra of Kozhikode district and Thalassery and Kuthuparamba of Kannur district form the Vadakara Lok Sabha Constituency.

Once considered an impregnable bastion of the CPI(M), the constituency has witnessed a remarkable transformation, with the Congress wresting control and dominating the electoral landscape since 2009.

Also Read: CPI(M) leader booked for cyber campaign against Vadakara Congress candidate

Surprise candidate

The Congress was forced to orchestrate a surprise by shifting its sitting MP K Muraleedharan to Thrissur, thereby paving the way for a fresh face to carry the torch of its electoral aspirations.

Shafi Parambil at Narikootumchal on 20 April. (South First)

Shafi Parambil at Narikootumchal on 20 April. (South First)

Enter the firebrand youth leader and MLA Shafi Parambil, who represents the Palakkad Assembly Constituency in the 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly. The UDF handpicked him to defend the party’s now stronghold.

Hailing from another district, yet possessing an uncanny ability to strike a chord with the electorate, Parambil has transcended geographical boundaries and forged an unbreakable bond with the people of Vadakara, local leaders said.

They believed that with his magnetic charisma, Parambil has endeared himself to a diverse spectrum of voters, captivating hearts and minds across all age groups.

As he traversed the length and breadth of Vadakara on his campaign vehicle and by foot, a palpable wave of excitement and anticipation followed.

So did the opposition. Young CPI(M) cadres faced Parambil with Chemppada, ithu chemppada (Red army, this is red army) slogans, and respectfully gave way to the rival candidate when he passed through their midst with a charming, disarming smile.

Also Read: BJP, Congress continue to blame CPI(M) for Kannur blast

A crowd-puller

South First joined his campaign at Kuttiyadi Assembly Constituency’s Narikootumchal and Kammanathazha on 20 April.

Shafi Parambil at Narikootumchal on 20 April. (South First)

Shafi Parambil at Narikootumchal on 20 April. (South First)

People of all age groups gathered for a glimpse of the Youth Congress leader. Some jostled to click selfies with him. The candidate obliged.

“He has become a crowd-puller,” a local Congress leader at Narikootumchal said.

“We are unable to stick to the campaign schedule. From bustling marketplaces to remote hamlets, eager supporters gather in droves, braving the sun and sudden summer thundershowers, waiting patiently into the wee hours to see him,” he added.

The party leader, however, sounded skeptical.

“We don’t know if this enthusiasm would translate to votes. But one thing is sure: We never had a candidate of this kind whose electrifying presence has elevated him to the status of a bona fide celebrity, revered and adored by one and all,” he said.

The young CPI(M) workers, who gave way to Parambil, might not disagree.

Also Read: K Karunakaran will not be handed over to the BJP: K Muraleedharan

Muraleedharan’s transfer

According to Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader Avala Hameed, the electorate was told of the necessity to shift Muraleedharan to Thrissur.

K Muraleedharan

K Muraleedharan. (X)

“During the campaigning, we explained the development that happened in Thrissur. Padmaja Venugopal switched her allegiance to BJP from Congress and Muraleedharan should contest from there,” Hameed said.

Padmaja, daughter of the late Congress stalwart K Karunakaran, is Muraleedharan’s sister.

According to another IUML leader, Parambil’s entry would help consolidate the Muslim votes. Muslims form a major vote bank in the constituency.

But amidst the adulation and fervent enthusiasm, Parambil has been facing a formidable challenge in winning the hearts and votes of the electorate.

Also Read: How Magsaysay award divided the CPI(M) in Kerala

Rock star candidate

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been steadfast in its quest to reclaim lost ground and restore the CPI(M)’s erstwhile supremacy in the constituency.

LDF candidate KK Shailaja campaigning at Thalassery on 21 April. (South First)

LDF candidate KK Shailaja campaigning at Thalassery on 21 April. (South First)

With a formidable candidate, KK Shailaja, taking vanguard, and a meticulously crafted strategy, the LDF was aiming to turn the electoral tide in its favour.

As the former health minister, she had steered the state through the darkest days of Nipah and Covid, earning accolades on the global stage for her deft management and compassionate governance.

She was elected from the Mattannur Assembly constituency with a record-breaking margin.

The LDF assessed Shailaja’s presence as a potential game-changer. She has been a celebrated leader, revered for her charisma and unwavering commitment to public service.

They believe that her stature held the promise of a resounding victory for the Left. For Keralites, Shailaja has been their “teacher”.

“Shailaja’s aura, credibility, and acceptance will emerge as a potent force. With her formidable reputation and widespread popularity, she has the potential to sway voters and mobilise the party cadre base, paving the way for a resounding victory,” a leader said.

Also Read: Kannur’s infamous crude bomb culture, and its intended (and unintended) victims

Flights have landed

NRI voters form a major force, concentrated majorly in the Nadapuram and Kuttiyadi constituencies.

Pictures and videos of NRIs arriving at Calicut and Kannur International Airports to cast their votes on Friday, 26 April, have gone viral.

South First caught up with one such NRI at Nadapuram on 21 April.

“I came from Abu Dhabi to cast my vote. UDF candidate Shafi Parambil had personally requested us and those working in Sharjah and Dubai to come home and vote. Many had arrived. More will come,” Naheem, who works at a restaurant in Abu Dhabi, said.

Similar requests had gone from LDF and BJP camps also.

Also Read: Vadakara LS seat campaign marred by cyberattack charges

A bomb blast and cyberattacks

Meanwhile, two incidents that occurred in the constituency recently were being widely discussed.

One was a bomb blast that occurred at Panur on 5 April, which killed a person and injured three others.

Though the deceased as well as the injured were CPI(M) supporters, the party distanced itself from the incident.

Even as the party found itself on the back foot, Shailaja alleged that Parambil and his team had launched a vicious cyberattack against her.

The CPI(M) alleged that Shailaja’s morphed photos, videos, and edited conversations were being circulated to discredit her. The UDF was also accused of attempts to wrongly influence Muslim voters.

Parambil refutes charge

While the UDF candidate rejected any hand in the cyberattack and sent legal notices to Shailaja and other CPI(M) leaders, the LDF made it a weapon to counter the former’s campaign of Panur bomb blast.


File photo of KK Shailaja addressing a public meeting. (Supplied)

Both candidates also referred to it in their campaign speeches.

“Let’s work together so that the youths and mothers live peacefully. Let it be ensured that the youth’s hands have books, pens, and jobs — and not weapons and bombs,” Parambil said at Narikootumchal.

At the same time, Shailaja referred to the cyberattack against her.

“Some are spreading fake news and attacking us personally in cyberspace. It’s the first time that such a heinous act has been carried out. It seems they are up to anything they want. We filed a complaint with the available evidence. We have to reach out to each family and bust the fake news reports spread by them,” she said at Thalassery.

Also Read: INDIA bloc not a front, it is a platform against BJP: Kerala CM

Riding on Modi’s guarantee

Amidst the fervor and anticipation swirling around the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP expressed hope that it was poised to disrupt the established political order and carve out a niche space for itself in the electoral landscape.

CR Praphul Krishnan with voters (FB)

CR Praphul Krishnan with voters (FB)

With the political tides shifting and the traditional dominance of the LDF and the UDF being challenged, the BJP has sensed an opportunity to make significant inroads and emerge as a potent force in the region.

The BJP fielded Yuva Morcha state president CR Praphul Krishnan in Vadakara.

It projected itself as a viable alternative to the entrenched political establishments and guaranteed a fresh vision and a bold agenda for development.

With promises of economic prosperity, infrastructure development, and good governance, the party expressed hope of striking a chord with the electorate and garnering widespread support for its cause.

As the electoral battleground of Vadakara bristles with anticipation and fervor, the contest is poised to unfold with all the drama and intensity befitting a high-stakes political spectacle. And it promises to be a photo finish.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).