The unusual scorching summer heat in Wayanad makes one wonder if it is synonymous with the constituency’s rebellious teen years. Quite literally. It is one of the youngest constituencies in Kerala, being established in 2009 and has been a Congress bastion since then.

 During its first Lok Sabha election, Congress veteran MI Shanavas was elected to power in Wayanad (which consists of three Assembly constituencies in Malappuram and one in Kozhikode), quite comfortably. It was a neck-to-neck competition between Shanavas and the Communist Party of India’s (CPI) Sathyan Mokeri in 2014, which Shanavas finally won with a majority of a mere 20,870 votes. Then came the 2019 elections, quite historic in fact, when Congress fielded its then potential Prime Minister candidate Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad. Gandhi was a newbie there, almost foreign and didn’t speak a word of Malayalam. But all that didn’t matter. He won the elections with a margin of more than 4 lakh votes. This was when he lost in Amethi, a constituency that sent him thrice to Parliament.

LDF candidate Annie Raja posing for a selfie with the employees of the Kalpetta Service Co-operative Bank in Wayanad during her campaign.

LDF candidate Annie Raja posing for a selfie with the employees of the Kalpetta Service Co-operative Bank in Wayanad during her campaign. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

That being said, will Wayanad indulge in a teenage rebellion and swim against the tide? “Rahul Gandhi is quite handsome. But he is not a good leader,” says Joy, a resident of Vaduvanchal in Wayanad. “We have seen him go on rallies through these roads. He appears almost like a demi-God. How can the common man talk to him? He doesn’t speak our language,” a friend of his joins. 

Gandhi is set to start campaigning in Wayanad on April 3 and file his nomination the same day. Among his rivals, the CPI’s Annie Raja started campaigning a month back, staying in Kalpetta. Even though there was a delay in the BJP announcing its Wayanad candidate, the party’s State President K Surendran began his campaigning on March 25. The duo goes around the constituency in their respective Innova cars, waving at the voters, asking them to vote and obliging to their request for photographs at any point. Both of them had a common argument against Gandhi - he doesn’t speak Malayalam and rarely visited the constituency. “Wayanad will soon be like Amethi. The tides will change and people will vote for the BJP,” he told businessline. “Wayanad is an aspirational district selected by the Centre and the MP has to take it forward. But he hasn’t done anything about it,” Surendran alleged.

NDA candidate K Surendran greeting voters during a roadshow

NDA candidate K Surendran greeting voters during a roadshow | Photo Credit: Mahalingam G

But this is just one side of the coin. Gandhi, or rather the Congress party has no dearth of supporters in Wayanad. “It is true that he doesn’t speak Malayalam. But he is always accompanied by T Siddique, MLA and a translator, who conveys our message to him,” says Haidar Ali, a local Congress worker. Deep in the interiors of Wayanad, close to Chembra Peak, a group of tea plantation workers live in temporary shelters. Many still await a house of their own and Gandhi seems to be their only hope to raise their issues on a national level. At least this is what the Congress members have promised them and a lot of them seem convinced about it. “Rahul Gandhi seems to be a nice man. He is the only one who can help us get a railway station from Nilambur to Nanjangud. That will make my trips back home easy,” said Chandru, a migrant labourer from Mysuru. Chandru’s Keralite wife, Rajamma, however, says she has a few qualms. But she is sure that people will vote Gandhi back to power. “But I wish to meet him and talk to him someday. There are a few issues that I will only discuss with him,” she says.

 A few kilometres away, in an Adivasi colony, 66-year-old Krishnan says he hasn’t been receiving his old age pension. He says his Aadhar card records his age as 50, making him 16 years younger on record. His relative, Ammini, laments about how she hasn’t been receiving her pension for a few months now. Ammini knows no candidate, including Gandhi. Krishnan says, “I have always been voting for Congress. I will continue to do so.” He met Gandhi during one of his visits to Wayanad but says he didn’t understand much of what he spoke. But for people like him, Gandhi appears to be the key to gifting them a better life. After all, faith offers an undeniable solace.