By Sanu George, Pathanamthitta (Kerala), March 25 IANS | 9 months ago

India's first proposed privatized international airport has threatened to ground sitting Congress MP Anto Antony's flight to parliament in the Lok Sabha elections.

The proposed greenfield airport at Pathanamthitta in Kerala's Travancore region had even created dissent within the Congress, with Antony now battling former veteran Congress leader Philipose Thomas, who recently parted ways with the party due to difference over the Rs.2,000- crore KGS Aranmula International Airport project.

According to Thomas, an All India Congress Committee (AICC) member and former president of the party in the district for more than a decade, he had become a persona non grata within the party from the moment he put his foot down on the airport project.

Contesting on the Communist Party of India (M) ticket now, Thomas is expected to make Antony sweat in his poll campaign to retain the Pathanamthitta seat.

The proposed KGS Aranmula International Airport got all the necessary sanctions, with the last and final clearance coming from the Ministry of Environment and Forests in November last year.

It is India's first private international airport and is spread over 700 acres, of which KGS has already 500 acres in its possession. The proposed airport is located about 110 km from the state capital and is expected to serve several districts around it. The famous Sabarimala temple is located 30 km from the project site.

Incidentally, the biggest opponents of this airport project include the Left, represented by Thomas in this case, and various Hindu religious groups backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They insist that an airport in the heritage town of Aranmula was not needed.

What however gives the airport tangle a twist, as far as the Left is concerned is that, according to Antony and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the airport project was only one of the many infrastructure initiatives which had been cleared by the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala (2006-11).

"All the papers which Achuthanandan has cleared for the proposed airport are there and we just took this project forward," said Chandy.

As far as head-to-head comparisons go, Antony is the first MP elected from Pathanamthitta, when the constituency was carved out following the delimitation process in 2008. The Congressman won the 2009 polls with a huge margin of 111,206 votes.

His main opponent now, Thomas, is a familiar figure in the constituency but has failed in his past three attempts to win the seat for the Congress party in the assembly election. This time round, Thomas in his CPI (M) avatar hit the campaign trail early, but the announcement of M.T. Ramesh as the BJP candidate for the constituency could just skew the picture.

Pathanamthitta, like the rest of the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala, comprises seven assembly constituencies. In the 2011 assembly polls, four of them were won by the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), while the Left opposition won three.

The slight numerical superiority could well be a morale booster for Antony, who is facing flak for his attempts to push for the proposed airport.

What Antony appears to be banking on is a huge non-resident population in his constituency hoping that their kin would hit the Congress button on the EVMs comeApril 10 and send his fate soaring, quite like an airplane taking off!

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

(Posted on 25-03-2014)

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