Wayanad: All eyes are on the Wayanad parliamentary constituency on the slopes of the Western Ghats in Kerala, chosen by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi to seek people's mandate, besides his family bastion Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
He is facing CPI's P P Suneer fielded by Kerala's ruling LDF in the April 23 election on the soil of legendary king Pazhassi Raja who fought a guerilla war against British colonialists.
The NDA has fielded Thushar Vellappally of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) from the constituency comprising seven assembly segments in Wayanad, Malappuram and Kozhikode districts.
The Wayanad seat, which was created in 2009, shares its borders with the Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu and the Mysuru region of Karnataka. It is predominantly rural and of its seven assembly segments, three are in Wayanad district, three in Malappuram and one in Kozhikode district.
Two assembly segments in the constituency -- Sulthan Bathery and Mananthavady -- are reserved for tribals who constitute around 18 per cent of the Wayanad's population. Vandoor in Malappuram district is reserved for Scheduled Caste.
Female voters are more in number compared to male voters in the Lok Sabha seat which has a total of 13,57,819 electors. There are 6,84,807 females, there are 6,73,011 male voters. While the difference is 11,796, there is only one third gender elector in the constituency.
Out of the 13,57,819 voters, 2,951 are overseas electors.
Senior Congress leader M I Shanavas, who died last year, had been winning the seat ever since the constituency was carved out in 2009.
He had trounced CPI's M Rahmatullah by over 1.5 lakh votes in 2009 and defeated CPI leader Sathyan Mokeri by a margin of 20,000 votes in 2014.
Political analysts say Wayanad, a bastion of Congress-led UDF, is a safe seat for Gandhi. According to them, the one thing that matters is the winning margin.
Senior Congress leader and INTUC state president R Chandrasekharan, who campaigned for his party chief in Wayanad, said Gandhi's candidature has given a new dimension to the constituency. His vision is upliftment of people dependent on farm, labour and rural sectors.
"People have faith in Gandhi. Many of them are small and marginal farmers, who grow mostly hill produce and coffee, in Wayanad. Gandhi understands their problems due to the fall in prices of agriculture produce and crop loss caused by natural disasters and extreme weather events," Chandrasekharan told PTI.
CPI(M) leader P Krishna Prasad, who is campaigning for Left's candidate Suneer, said it is not going to be easy for Gandhi as people feel that they suffer due to the anti-farmer policies of both the Congress and the BJP governments at the Centre.
"There is no Congress wave in Wayanad. The Congress or its leader Rahul Gandhi have no specific plans for addressing their problems. Farmers are on the verge of suicide due to the wrong policies of the governments led by the Congress and the BJP," Prasad, a former MLA, told PTI.
What Gandhi is seeking is a lifelong relationship with the people of Wayanad, Chandrasekharan said, referring to the Congress president's speech at an election rally at Sulthan Bathery Assembly segment on April 17.
"I just don't want to have a relationship of just few months. I want a lifelong relationship with you. I want the sisters of Wayanad to say that I am like their brother, the fathers and mothers to say that I am their son," Gandhi had said.
Wayanad has significant Muslim and Christian populations.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a major political force in the constituency, is a key ally of the Congress in the state. Christians, whose forefathers had migrated from Travancore region at least three generations back, forms a big electoral block in the constituency.
According to the UDF leaders, Gandhi will mobilise the support of the minority communities on account of his aggressive posturing against the Sangh Parivar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
NDA candidate Thushar Vellapappy belongs to the Ezhava community. Thushar is son of Vellapally Natesan, the powerful general secretary of the community outfit SNDP Yogam.
NDA leaders claim that the real fight in Wayanad is between Gandhi and the backward class leader Thushar.
The hill constituency is also known for its rich biodiversity and wild animals.
According to Kerala Forest Department, Wayanad wildlife sanctuary is contiguous to the protected areas of Nagarhole and Bandipur of Karnataka on the north-east and Mudumalai of Tamilnadu on the south-east.
The forest types include South Indian Moist Deciduous forests, west coast semi-evergreen forests and plantations of teak, eucalyptus and Grewelia.
Elephant, gaur, tiger, panther, sambar, spotted deer, barking deer, wild boar, sloth bear, Nilgiri langur, bonnet macaque, common langur, wild dog, common otter, Malabar giant squirrel etc are the major mammals found in the Wayanad forests.