Yohanan, a 68-year-old fisherman in Chettikad Beach of Alappuzha’s coastal Poonkavu area, feels it doesn’t matter who wins the Lok Sabha polls. He is more concerned about the dwindling fish catch from the seas, which has a more direct bearing on his livelihood.

Rising fuel cost and lack of government support have left fishermen like him stranded in a sea of uncertainty. Any financial support is the privilege of those who align with a political party, he says.

Gone are the days of abundant catches that had fisherfolk thronging the Chettikad beach for sales, he reminisces. The once bustling beach that went by the moniker Little America now wears a grim look, with empty nets and idling fishing boats amid shrinking fish catches.

The cases of traditional coir and the houseboat industry, that has carved a niche as one of the iconic emblems of Kerala tourism, are no different, as the sectors are floundering, leaving the workers disillusioned.

A fierce electoral battle is unfolding in Alappuzha Lok Sabha constituency that promises to remould its political landscape against this backdrop of hardships.

Political Forge

Alappuzha has a vibrant political culture marked by peasant movement and anti-caste struggles spearheaded by the Communist Party of Kerala that shaped the electoral fortunes of the place. It is the cradle of trade unionism, which emerged in the agriculture and coir sectors and later became militant, much to the dismay of the industry in Alappuzha.

Coir industry, especially the small and medium units, is in disarray with waning demand from overseas markets. The crisis that no political party is interested in resolving has forced many to migrate to other sectors, says Sunny Chandy of Aleena Coir Works.

He praised former Finance Minister Thomas Issac, who hails from Alappuzha, for his effort for the revival of the coir sector, adding that his successor seemed uninterested in getting things right.

Triangular contest

The government apathy has driven off youngsters from the industry in Kerala, while local government support has encouraged many entrepreneurs to shift to Tamil Nadu to set up units, observes VJ Francis, proprietor of Lisa Coirtex.

Plagued by problems of excess sediment deposits in the backwaters following the floods of 2018, the houseboat industry has been further hit by a 30 per cent drop in domestic tourist arrivals after the announcement of Lok Sabha polls, says Jobin Joseph, president of the House Boat Owners Federation.

Amid these issues, electioneering is gaining pace in Alappuzha, where a triangular contest is predicted.

The candidature of KC Venugopal, AICC general secretary, who represented the constituency twice from 2009 to 2019, has brought national attention to the polls. The ruling LDF has fielded sitting MP AM Arif of the CPI (M), who defied a clean sweep of the 2019 Parliament elections by the Congress-led UDF. Giving both a tight fight is BJP’s Shobha Surendran, known for her fiery rhetoric.

In a constituency which elects either Congress or Communist Party leaders, the BJP is campaigning with the slogans of Modi’s guarantee and the promise of a woman minister in the Union Cabinet.

DK Shivakumar, Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, was the star attraction for the road show of KC Venugopal, in which he lavishly praised the role of Venugopal as the AICC general secretary.

The seven assembly segments of the Lok Sabha seat are spread over the two districts of Kollam and Alappuzha. There are 13,56,701 voters in the district and 10,88,728 valid votes.

Alappuzha, facing several economic challenges which need urgent government intervention, is looking to its winning candidate to regain the glory of the once-thriving coastal area, known as Venice of the East, with its verdant lakes and canals.