Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy met with a car accident in the early hours of Sunday but surprised the organisers of various functions he was scheduled to attend during the day by turning up at all of them.
The chief minister, whose official car skidded and fell in a drain near Ettumanoor at 2.45 am, continued his journey in the pilot vehicle to his home at Puthupally in Kottayam district, went for the usual Sunday mass in his village church and then proceeded to Ernakulam, where he had about a dozen functions lined up.
The day before had been no different when he attended over a dozen functions in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts.
This has been the daily routine for Chandy and his ministerial colleagues ever since the Election Commission kicked off preparations for the assembly polls to be held in April-May.
Racing against time
With the announcement of election schedule expected any time, the chief minister and the ministers are racing against time to inaugurate as many projects as possible and lay foundation stones for new ones. Many of the projects inaugurated in the last month are ongoing ones that will take months for completion.
The half-baked projects include mega projects like Kochi Metro, Kannur international airport and a second international terminal at Cochin international airport.
Kochi metro: The metro is likely to be ready for commercial operation only in November, but the trial run was conducted as early as January.
Cochin airport: The new terminal sprawling over 15 lakh square feet being built at a cost of Rs1,000 crore was inaugurated on February 26. The flooring and other basic work is yet to be completed and the terminal is expected to be ready for commercial operation only in June.
Kannur airport: Test landing was conducted at the new international airport on February 29 though it will take another seven months to complete the construction of runway and the terminal. A physically weak chief minister took a helicopter to Kannur to inaugurate the event.
Along with the inauguration spree, the government is also laying foundation stones for various projects, many of which have not received required clearances from concerned agencies. Notable among these are the proposed light metros at Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode that have not even received in-principle clearance from the union government.
The United Democratic Front government is trying to speed up projects in a desperate bid to showcase development as a main theme in the coming assembly polls against the opposition’s attempt to project corruption as the focal point of campaign.
Along with the inaugurations, the government has also launched a massive advertisement blitzkrieg in the print and electronic media.
The ads seek to project the five-year term of the Oommen Chandy government as golden era of development and highlight a series of mega projects, including some of those yet to be completed, like the ones mentioned above.
The opposition Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been boycotting the inaugural functions and staging protests outside the venues. The CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan termed the inauguration spree by the government in its last one month as an election stunt.
“The 7-seater Dornier 228 aircraft used for test landing in Kannur can land even in school grounds. The government has hoodwinked the people by organising the test landing of flight before completing the project,” he added.
Chandy cited the huge gathering of people at the inaugural function to claim that people had not approved the opposition decision to boycott the “historic event”. He said that people were not interested in controversies. They only want development, he said.
“The opposition has the right to criticise the government but people would not approve their stand of stalling development activities. They will rebuff with contempt those who oppose growth,” he added.
The real tussle
However, a recent pre-poll survey conducted by a prominent television channel showed that the bar bribery and solar scams that rocked the government were uppermost in the minds of the electorate, and not development. The Asianet-C-Fore survey predicted a comfortable victory for the LDF in the ensuing election.
But Chandy sees a ray of hope in the survey that predicts 55-60 seats to the ruling front in the 140-member assembly. “If the survey conducted at the height of bribery allegations that solar scam accused Saritha Nair made against me and other Congress leaders gives us 60 seats, I am sure we will get the majority when the clouds clear by the time elections are held,” he said.
Chandy said he was confident that the people will weigh his government’s achievements when they cast their vote. He said that the survey had increased his confidence over the outcome of the polls.
However, his party does not share his confidence. The Congress high command has decided to project a collective leadership consisting of Chandy, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and state Congress chief VM Sudheeran to lead the election campaign.
The CPI(M), which is grappling with the SNC Lavalin corruption case hanging over the head of its chief ministerial candidate Pinarayi Vijayan, is also considering a similar strategy. The party is planning to field its most popular face VS Achuthanandan along with Vijayan to shore up its image before the people.
This portends fierce tussle for leadership in both camps after the election. It will be tougher for the CPI(M) as the state unit of the party is standing firmly behind Vijayan, who had missed two opportunities to lead the LDF in the past due to the corruption case.