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    Kerala: IUML's Kunhalikutty on firm footing

    Vengara (Kerala): Irrespective of his detractors' attempts to revive an old sex scandal against him, Muslim League leader P K Kunhalikutty appears to be sitting comfortable in the newly-carved Vengara Assembly segment in Kerala's Muslim heartland Malappuram. The resurfacing of the "ice cream parlour" sex case, in which Kunhalikutty's name was often dragged, is being used as a weapon against him by the LDF in the campaign.

    The case relates to allegations in late 1990s that an ice cream parlour in Kozhikode was used as a cover to lure young women into sex rackets following which Kunhalikutty quit as Industries Minister in the 2004 UDF Government. Though Kunhalikutty, a state unit General Secretary of IUML, has never been made an accused in the case, the scam was back in limelight in recent months with a relative of him claiming that he had helped the League leader to wriggle out of the legal tangles.

    Interestingly, it was a television channel, whose director board is headed by Kunhalikutty's party colleague and former minister Dr M K Muneer, that beamed most of the stories on the ice cream parlour case. The issue was initially feared to have caused deep divisions in IUML but the rift had been patched up and Muneer himself is contesting the elections from Kozhikode.

    The development had also cast doubts about Kunhalikutty contesting the polls but the unstinted support from the party leadership and rank and file helped him to overcome the crisis. If the initial trends are any indication, he is
    expected to have a smooth sail in the April 13 polls putting behind his upset defeat from adjacent Kuttippuram in 2006.

    A central player of Congress-led UDF, personal allegations and controversies have always haunted 59-year-old Kunhalikutty but he has carried forward with grit and unstinted support from his party's leadership and rank and
    file.

    Kunhalikutty's main opponent this time is K P Ismail of the LDF-backed Indian National League (INL), a debutant in electoral battle. Ismail, who entered politics through the Congress' student wing KSU but joined INL in 1992, has good roots in the area. Undeterred by IUML's mighty presence in the segment,
    Ismail has mounted a fierce campaign with the help of the CPM cadre.

    Having completed his first round of canvassing, Ismail said he would upset UDF's apple cart as voters would not be lured by the "honey coated" promises of IUML leaders.

    Overcoming the severe drubbing it received in 2006 polls, IUML has made a come back as the central political entity in Malappuram district putting up an impressive show in the Lok Sabha and civic polls since then. The second largest component in the UDF after the Congress, IUML is contesting 21 seats this time, most of which are in Malappuram itself.

    "We have no doubt that we will sweep the entire area this time. Kunhalikutty will emerge victorious with a thumping margin", IUML district President Panakkad Syid Sadiq Ali Thangal told PTI.

    A leader who has come up from the grassroots, Kunhalikutty had held the Industries portfolio in the previous UDF regimes. Handpicked by the late Panakkad Syid Muhammadali Shihab Thangal, Kunhalikutty became Malappuram Municipal chairman when he was 27. He has since then contested seven elections, tasting defeat only once.

    "Our objective will be to increase the margin of victory. UDF would sweep the poll as the people are fed up with the anti-people rule of the CPM-led LDF", Kunhalikutty said.

    Being the most populous district in Kerala, Malappuram will be sending the largest number of representatives to the Assembly district-wise with the number of segments increasing from 12 to 16 this time due to demographic reasons. The BJP has put up its local leader P Subramanyan in the segment, whose campaign theme is elect him as the nominee of the "real opposition" party in the state to take on the LDF and UDF which have been alternating in power in the last three decades.