Ground Zero Puthuppally: Emotional outpourings favouring Chandy Jr eclipse development discourse

While the Congress banks largely on Oommen Chandy's legacy, the CPI(M) eyes developmental deficiency, especially drinking water, as an issue.

ByK A Shaji

Published Aug 27, 2023 | 4:24 PMUpdatedAug 27, 2023 | 8:30 PM


Saturday, August 26, marked the 40th day since the death of Kerala’s two-time chief minister and Congress heavyweight Oommen Chandy, who continues to keep a pride of place in the hearts of every Malayali.

At his tomb, located just outside the St George Orthodox Church at Puthuppally in the Kottayam district of Kerala, there had been a huge gathering of people since early morning, comprising both voters in the local assembly constituency and those from outside.

Chandy Oommen

Women voters of Puthupally are clicking pictures with Chandy Oommen. Photo: K A Shaji

For Asian orthodox Christians in Kerala, the 40th day is important as it marks when the departed soul meets its creator after passing through certain trials.

So Chandy’s wife Mariyamma Oommen, daughters Achu and Maria, and son Chandy Oommen attended a special Holy Mass and prayers held in the morning at the church and the tomb.

Numerous Congress workers and leaders from across the state were also present on the occasion.

After the prayers, the two daughters left for different parts of the Puthuppally Assembly segment to campaign for their brother, Chandy Oommen.

At the same time, their mother preferred to sit close to the tomb until the evening.

The family had arranged for food for over 10,000 people who attended the ceremonies on the 40th day.

Still, the visitors preferred lighting candles at the tomb and placing flowers there rather than relishing the traditional white appam and chicken stew served.

Mariyamma sat on a chair close to the tomb while Chandy Oommen, who took a day’s break from the hectic campaign amidst escalating heat, left for the premises of the houses his father started to build a few months before his death.

People who visited the tomb turned emotional, and many cried aloud, recalling the contributions of the departed leader known for his philanthropic bent of mind.

They all wished a speedy recovery to a visibly unwell Mariamma before leaving, and she responded to their courtesies with a smile and gestures.

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Outpouring of emotions

A set of Congress leaders who thronged the church premises termed Mariyamma’s presence close to the tomb on the 40th day of her husband’s demise as something that would brighten the electoral prospects of her son Chandy Oommen.

The election is slated for 5 September, and the constituency is witnessing the soaring emotional connection the voters have with Oommen Chandy, who strode Kerala like a colossus and represented Puthuppally continuously for 53 years.

Irrespective of caste, religion, and community, thousands visited the tomb on Saturday, apart from wishing Mariyamma.

The Congress feels the emotional outpourings would easily translate into votes.


CPI(M) candidate Jaik C Thomas with voters in Puthupally. Photo: K A Shaji

While Mariyamma, her relatives, and senior Congress leaders who were present on the church premises preferred not to engage in explicit political campaigning, many ordinary workers were seen urging the visitors to recall how much humiliation their leader had suffered at the hands of the ruling CPI(M) and its coalition in Kerala during his final days, and reminding them that the revenge was helping his son win the byelection by a massive majority.

Jimmy John, a campaigner from Kannur who was seen close to the tomb for several hours, turned emotional whenever he met voters in the constituency and recalled how Oommen Chandy turned into a phenomenon.

He cried literally before television cameras, recalling how the CPI(M) targeted the departed leader during the Solar Scam investigations by levelling false allegations.

The electoral outcome in the constituency would turn out to be a big revenge by the people against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who plotted the false allegations against him, Jimmy told South First.

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Politics or not?

The unfinished house of Oommen Chandy on the family land he inherited is still in pillars, and Chandy Oommen was seen standing below the shadow of a tree close to the skeletons.

He said he was taking a day’s break from campaigning because of the 40th day of his father’s departure.

But there was a huge rush of voters in the constituency to the premises of the unfinished house after coming to know that the candidate was relaxing there.

With hundreds thronging the house’s premises, where there were no signs of resuming construction activities, the candidate started his campaign activities on a different level. He posed for selfies and photographs with all who wanted them.

Elders were seen blessing him and wishing him huge margins in the election. He became a patient listener when people started explaining how his father extended their helping hands in times of crisis.

Mariayamma Oommen

Oommen Chandy’s wife Mariyamma Oommen at his tomb on the 40th day. Photo: K A Shaji

When four children of a migrant family came to offer shawls to him, he spoke to them in fluent Hindi, and the children said it was their big dream to meet him directly.

“Are you exploiting the sentiments of the people who had an emotional connection with your father? What is preventing you from discussing politics and development? Why are you not treating this election politically?” South First asked Chandy Oommen.

He said he was not contesting the election as a successor or alternative to his legendary father.

“I may be an MLA filling the void he created after 53 years of representing this constituency. However, there is no replacement or alternative to Oommen Chandy,” said Chandy Oommen.

“In the case of development and politics, we are not shying away from the burning issues concerning the people. It would be an election that reflected the people’s antipathy towards the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s wrong policies. And it would be an apt reply to those who are campaigning to say that my father has done nothing for this constituency,” he added, listing out the projects commissioned in the constituency by his father.

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Political rivals

CPI(M) candidate Jaik C Thomas

CPI(M) candidate Jaik C Thomas

In the meantime, CPI(M) candidate Jaik C Thomas was campaigning a little away, in the Pampady village panchayat.

When South First reached Pampady, he was winding up the day’s campaigning on a scorching day.

“It would be up to the people to choose their candidate. But as far as I am concerned, there is now a fierce political context in the constituency. We ensured that the Congress candidate must discuss politics and development rather than ride back on the emotional outpourings,” said Thomas.

“The biggest issue in the Puthuppally constituency is drinking water, and Chandy senior should have addressed it, having been its MLA for 53 years and chief minister twice,” he added.

“Compared with other Assembly constituencies in the Kottayam district, Puthuppally has little infrastructure. We need better educational institutions. Even the high school where Chandy senior studied got a better building under this government of Pinarayi Vijayan,” said Thomas, who unsuccessfully contested against Ooommen Chandy twice.

Jaik said he believed in certain values, and his party was not engaging in any character assassination bid against the Chandy family.

Asked why his cyber-supporters targeted Achu Oommen personally on social media by levelling false allegations of amassing wealth using her late father’s influence as cover, Jaik said he was the first to talk against such unhealthy tendencies and ensure that such social media posts were removed.

“Character assassinations are happening at different levels involving workers of different parties. But we are sure we will fight this election politically,” he said.

Jaik’s campaign manager K Anil Kumar said his party still hoped to fight and win the election by talking about development.

“In the last election, Oommen Chandy won from here by a slender majority of 9,044 votes. We got the upper hand in the local body elections by winning five-gram panchayats. The Congress controls only two panchayats here now,” he said.

Lijin Lal of the BJP and Luke Thomas of the Aam Admi Party are the other prominent candidates among the seven who are fighting the byelection here.

The BJP-led NDA’s presence is negligible in the constituency, but it’s focusing on house-visiting campaigns involving state and national leaders.

“We do not care about the election as no party will address our drinking-water scarcity sooner or later. Despite it being monsoon time, there is extreme heat in the constituency. People have no choice but to receive and patiently hear the leaders visiting their houses. Heat is preventing us from listening to leaders by thronging in public places. Only for television channels, the byelection is of such importance,” lamented AM Santhamma, who runs a small shop at Meenadom Junction in the constituency.

“For the first time in history, we saw many television crews in Puthuppally. And only through the continued television news bulletins do we realise this is a big election. There will be no surprises after the election. It’s a Congress citadel that loves Oommen Chandy. There is no politics here beyond that,” opined P Radhakrishnan Nair of the Velloor village in the constituency.

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The possibilities


Grafitti supporting Chandy Oommen at Meenadam in Puthuppally. Photo: K A Shaji

If Chandy Oommen wins the election, it would be a morale booster for Leader of the Opposition VD Satheesan, who has been camping in the constituency since the polls were declared.

The whole state leadership of the party is delegated to the constituency, along with the leaders of other constituents of the UDF.

The notable presences are Congress leaders Ramesh Chennithala and K Muraleedharan, who are displeased over the lack of patronage from the Congress high command.

Both have said they would say something about party affairs after the polls.

For the CPI(M), narrowing down the majority of Chandy Oommen would be some solace.

On 30 August, Vijayan and 17 of his ministers will start their second round of campaigning in the constituency.

The Congress is far ahead of other political formations in the case of boards, posters, and other campaign materials so far. But in house visits, CPI(M) stands first.

Anil Kumar asserted that it would be a challenging walkover with boiling emotional outpourings and personnel connections this time.

Related: Kerala bids a tearful farewell as Oommen Chandy is laid to rest