Breaking bread is a tradition as ancient as the art of diplomacy, but it could have hardly occurred to sitting MP NK Premachandran from Kollam that sharing a meal with the Prime Minister could become a high-stakes game of political brinkmanship.

The meal instead provided manna to rival Left Democratic Front (LDF) that never forgave the two-time MP from the traditionally Left-leaning Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) for jumping sides to join the Congress-led UDF after being denied a seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which he has gone on to win twice since.

Raising LDF’s hackles

The LDF has sought to insinuate the MP is gravitating to the BJP from the time the long-delayed Kollam bypass got inaugurated just ahead of the 2019 elections when his office managed to get the Prime Minister to do the honours - against LDF’s own wishes, something more than the ruling front in Kerala had bargained for.

The MP raised its hackles further by praising the PM’s office recently for ‘effectively monitoring progress of projects’ in his constituency. Joining an inaugural function online, he said ‘he was convinced work would be completed without any hiccups.’

Faith in voter trust

The LDF is using every means from its bag of tricks to sabotage his election, says he. It even prevailed on the CITU to take out protest marches holding a banner in black featuring his name in white. But he reposes faith in the trust of voters, and has sought to counter the narrative by personally reaching out to them in large numbers. “I may have met, and shook hands with at least 1.5 lakh of them by now,” he says.

Premachandran takes on M Mukesh, sitting LDF MLA from Kollam Assembly segment, and Krishnakumar G of the BJP, both accomplished cine artists. The sitting MP calls himself a mainstream politician while his rivals are part-timers. Krishnakumar is a delayed entrant to the scene with his candidacy announced only on March 24.

Pronounced indifference

The most striking feature emerging from a tour of the constituency is a pronounced voter apathy to elections, which are a fortnight away. “None of the candidates has come here for canvassing. We expect them to do it as the poll day draws closer. Daytime temperatures are currently unbearable. They are humans, after all,” reasoned Anil Kumar, shop owner in Kulathupuzha in interior Kollam.

Roads and junctions in the plantation belt of Punalur, Kulathupuzha, Anchal and Chadayamangalam as well as rural Chathanoor, Mayyanad, Eravipuram, Chavara and Kundara with a significant minority population, wore a largely deserted look.

Minorities’ concerns

A group of autorickshaw drivers seeking shade from the blazing afternoon sun at Anchal were dismissive of elections. “It doesn’t make any difference to us. We will vote according to individual political preferences,” said Ratheesh and Arjun in what is a known CPI belt. They appreciate Premachandran, but will think again before voting since some of their most pressing demands have gone abegging for long.

Muslim segments in Chadayamangalam, Kundara, Mayyanad and Eravipuram are anguished over CAA. “To say Kerala is not affected is a misrepresentation of fact. We share concerns of our brethren wherever they are. This will for sure find expression in the way we vote this time round,” says Adil Muhammed, a PR professional.