Across Ernakulam, the business hub of Kerala, beautifully shot posters of candidates have been splashed across the walls. The waste seen lying in public spaces, many times around these posters, turn out to be a major eyesore. But this parliamentary election is proving a different priority for the district that is home to the city of Kochi.
"Threat to secularism is a big issue for me in this election," Girish Kumar, in his 50s, tells NDTV, while eating his dosa. His isn't an isolated opinion. Several voters across the constituency seem to mention this. "There are many issues, like waste management and flood aftermath but I really think one of the main things on my mind is secularism. There is religious fanaticism on the rise in India. This needs to stop," says Anna says, visibly worried.
Ernakulam is a Congress stronghold. This time, the BJP is fielding Union Tourism Minister KJ Alphons agains the Congress's two-time legislator Hibi Eden from the central Kerala district.
The constituency has around 40 per cent minority votes, majority of which are from the Latin Catholic community.
KJ Alphons rubbished the allegations of threat to India's secularism as "fake news".
"In 2013-14, when Narendra Modi was aspiring to be Prime Minister, the canard spread was that churches will be burnt down, Christians will be burnt down if he became the Prime Minister. He did become the PM. But has any church been burnt down? So all this is fake news from WhatsApp media to create fear among people. 99 per cent is fake news," Mr Alphons told NDTV.
"Look at how PM brought back nurses from Iraq, Father Alexis Prem Kumar from Taliban in Afghanistan and Father Tom Uzhunnalil from Yemen. These were huge successes. He is everyone's Prime Minister," KJ Alphons added.
But, the Congress and the Left campaigns in Ernakulam have countered the minister's claim, alleging that religious divisiveness and threat to secularism are on the rise in the current dispensation. This has become the focus point in their campaigns.
At the campaign of Congress's Hibi Eden, the 35-year-old sitting legislator who belongs to the Latin Catholic community could be seen smiling and waving at the voters.
Young men on bikes waving the Congress flag escorted him. At every speech, he tells people that he will stand for them, stand for secularism and inclusivity. When NDTV asked about the garbage seen around during the campaign, he answered on his priorities, "This is not the main issue in this election. My main issue is restoring secularism to India. We have seen communalism on the rise. We have seen communalism enter even Kerala politics. My campaign is against this," Mr Eden told NDTV.
Hibi Eden rubbished the rape case filed against him by a woman who is an accused in a case of duping several businessmen of lakhs of rupees. "The FIR (First Information Report) was filed just two days before my nomination. Everyone knows the motive behind all this. People are not fools. The woman has levelled similar allegations against top congress leaders like KC Venugopal and Oommen Chandy, which are motivated and baseless. I will win with a landslide victory," Hibi Eden said.
Left candidate P Rajeev, a former Rajya Sabha lawmaker, has a massive challenge before him in Ernakulam. "People in this constituency believe that protection of secularism is a main issue. I have had the privilege of raising several motions and questions in parliament to protect secularism. I was the one who raised questions about the central government losing documents on assassination of Mahatma Gandhi," Mr Rajeev told NDTV.
"But it's not just these issue. Drinking water, waste disposal systems and several local issues also matter," he said.
The Congress won with 42 per cent votes in the 2014 election, a dip of around 3.96 per cent votes in comparison to 2009. The CPM came second with a dip of 12.72 per cent votes, in comparison to its 2009 performance.
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