The two-front system that has dominated Kerala's electoral scene for more than two decades is facing severe challenges from inside and outside, casting a shadow on their future.
Although public attention is centred on the fronts, elections in the state are now multi-cornered. In the 2004 Lok Sabha poll, there was no constituency which had fewer than five candidates. Out of the 20 constituencies, 17 had six or more candidates each.
For long, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been striving to break through the solid phalanx put up by the rival alliances, the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress party and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). So far, it has not been able to win even an assembly seat.
When the BJP-led coalition was in power at the Centre, the party got one of its state leaders, O. Rajagopal, into the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh and made him a minister.His promotion of the state's interests earned him a personal following but it was not enough to win a Lok Sabha seat.
The BJP contested 19 Lok Sabha seats last time and garnered 10.4% of the votes polled.
However, all candidates excepting Rajagopal and another forfeited their deposits. In the assembly elections of 2006 the party's vote share dropped to 4.8%.
The BJP is not the only national party looking for a breakthrough in the state.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was in the arena last time with 14 candidates. All forfeited their deposits. The party's vote share was less than 0.5%.
The BSP is in the field again in a big way, and Mayawati was in Thiruvananthapuram during the weekend to boost its candidates' prospects.
The party, which captured power in UP last year by reaching out beyond its traditional Dalit base, is planning to replicate that experiment in Kerala. It has fielded this time two experienced non-Dalit politicians, A. Neelalohithadasan Nadar (Thiruvanathapuram) and KK Nair (Pathanamthitta).
Neelalohithadasan, who began public life as a Congressman, shot into fame decades ago by defeating Communist Party of India (CPI) veteran MN Govindan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram by mobilising the support of his backward class Nadar community. A Janata Dal (S) minister in the last LDF regime, he had to quit the party and the government following allegations of sexual harassment.
KK Nair, who was first elected to the assembly from Pathanamthitta as an Independent, had kept a government led by K. Karunakaran in office when it was reduced to a minority. The price he extracted was the formation of Pathanamthitta district.
Since neither the LDF nor the UDF showed interest in an alliance with it, the Nationalist Congress Party NCP), which is a recognised national party, is in the field all by itself.
The party's state president, K. Muraleedharan, who repeatedly threatened to contest all the 20 seats, has now decided, in consultation with the national president, Sharad Pawar, to put up just four candidates.
Apart from these national parties, some local players are also in the picture. They include breakaway Left elements.
Both the fronts are in disarray. The LDF's problems are organisational. There is deep discontent among its constituents.
The Congress has no serious problems with its UDF partners. However, there is discontent in the party over the choice of candidates.
The CPI-M had its way in Ponnani, but its cosy relationship with Abdul Naser Mahdani's People's Democratic Party(PDP) has embittered the CPI and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Mahdani was the star of the LDF show at Kuttipuram, which was inaugurated by CPI-M secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
The PDP leaders were not seen at the LDF conventions in the CPI constituencies.
The CPI-M has to contend with the threat posed by dissidents in the Onchiyam area of Vadakara, who have set up a parallel party unit. It has also to reckon with the influence of dissidents in the Shoranur area of Palakkad, who demonstrated their popular support in the municipal by-elections.
The Left co-ordination committee floated by the dissidents is fielding candidates in five constituencies, including Vadakara and Palakkad.
The Marxist Communist Party of India (United), another dissident outfit, is putting up two candidates.
The CPI-M apparently faces more threats from inside and outside its front than the Congress. However, it is doubtful if the Congress machinery is capable of taking full advantage of its rival's discomfiture.