In Thiruvananthapuram, BJP banks on Sabarimala factor, support from Nairs, Brahmins to defeat Shashi Tharoor
BJP commands the loyalty of a section of Nair and Brahmin voters in Thiruvananthapuram, and it must ensure the lion's share of their voters if it wants to win the Lok Sabha seat in Kerala
Shashi Tharoor, who was found trailing behind BJP's Kummanam Rajashekharan in opinion polls for Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat, is pinning his hope on cross voting by CPM
BJP had inched closer in 2014 Lok Sabha polls with BJP candidate O Rajagopal coming second with just 15,740 votes shot of victory
Shashi Tharoor had managed to win Thiruvananthapuram in 2014 because of cross voting from CPM and due to support of minority-dominated Assembly seats
BJP's 2019 candidate Kummanam Rajashekharan can easily win the seat if he is able to pool maximum votes from four seat where Rajagopal secured majority in 2014
BJP commands the loyalty of a section of Nair and Brahmin voters in the city, and it must ensure the lion's share of their voters if it wants to win Thiruvananthapuram seat
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been wooing minority votes by projecting itself as the biggest opposer of the Sangh Parivar. Therefore, the win of a BJP candidate from the Lok Sabha seats in Kerala will be a big political setback for the party.
Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor, who was found trailing behind Kummanam Rajashekharan of BJP in many opinion poll surveys, is pinning his hope on cross voting by the CPM to ensure his win in the constituency.
Babu Jose, a member of a Congress think tank in Thiruvananthapuram believes it won’t be difficult for CPM to transfer its votes to Tharoor since its ally was way behind the front runners. Moreover, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate C Divakaran belongs to the Communist Party of India (CPI), which has won only two of the ten elections it contested as its ally in the constituency so far.
One was in 2004, when the LDF swept the state by winning 18 of the 20 seats. The other victory was in 1996 with a small margin. Senior CPI leaders have pooh-poohed speculations doing rounds in the media regarding cross voting.
"The pre-poll surveys predicting an upper hand to the BJP is fabricated by the media. The fight in Thiruvananthapuram is actually between the LDF and the UDF. We are clearly ahead of the UDF candidate this time," claimed Pradeep Kumar, a CPI leader at Pattom in the capital city.
He said that the voters in the constituency want a representative to be among them. The Congress candidate, he said, was a rare visitor of the constituency. Divakaran, on the other hand, is a very popular trade union leader involved in waging struggles for the rights of the working class.
Thiruvananthapuram has been a Congress bastion for the last five decades. The party was defeated only twice since 1971. However, the political equations in the district started changing in the last few years. Congress candidate Tharoor felt the heat of the saffron surge in the 2014 election when BJP candidate O Rajagopal inched close to victory by polling 32 percent votes.
Tharoor scraped through with a margin of 15,470 votes with the help of lead he secured from the three minority-dominated Assembly segments — Parassala, Neyyattinkara and Kovalam. Rajagopal got the lead in Thiruvananthapuram, Vattiyoorkavu, Nemom and Kazhakkottam segments, where the majority community hold the sway.
However, the BJP’s growth in Thiruvananthapuram has not been steady. P Ashok Kumar could poll only 56,046 votes when the party entered the fray for the first time in 1989. O Rajagopal increased the tally to 80,566 in 1991 but came down to 74,904 votes in 1996 when K Raman Pillai came to the scene. In Kerala, Varma Raja took it to 94,303 in 1998.
Rajagopal raised the vote share of the BJP by 155,221 votes in 1999 and bettered his own record in 2004 with 228,052 votes. BJP's choice flopped in 2009 as party candidate PK Krishna Das polled only 84,094 votes. Rajagopal came back in 2014 to raise it to 282,336 votes, which was just 15,470 votes short of victory.
In short, the BJP owes its formidable presence in the constituency to Rajagopal who opened the saffron account in the Kerala state Assembly a year later by winning the Nemom Assembly constituency by an impressive margin.
The calculation in the BJP camp is that their candidate Kummanam Rajashekharan can easily win the seat if he is able to pool maximum votes from the four segments where Rajagopal secured majority in 2014. The BJP does not consider it difficult since they feel that the Hindu faithful, who are angry with the stand taken by both the LDF and the Congress on the Sabarimala issue, will lend their weight behind them this time.
However, political analysts are doubtful whether Kummanam will be able to secure the votes polled by Rajagopal since the stellar performance came at the height of the Modi wave, which is no more discernible in the state now. Moreover, Rajagopal had a wider appeal among all section of voters as a moderate leader. This is not the case with Kummanam, who is perceived as a hardcore RSS man who does not enjoy the support even across the BJP.
The ambivalent stand adopted by the two major Hindu organisations in Kerala over Sabarimala issue has also raised concern in the BJP camp. While the Nair Service Society (NSS), which champions the cause of the upper caste Nair community, has announced equidistant stand with all political parties, the SNDP of the lower caste Ezhava is also toeing a middle line.
The denial of an audience to Kummanam, who quit as Mizoram governor to contest the election, by NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair has further dampened the spirit in the Kummanam camp. The BJP was expecting the full backing of the NSS since it (BJP) was the only political party to lend open support to the protests spearheaded by them (NSS) against the 28 September Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all ages to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala.
However, BJP leaders are hopeful that the members of the community would defy the diktat of the leadership and vote for the BJP. A campaign committee member of Kummanam claimed that many NSS workers have been covertly canvassing votes for the BJP nominee. He said that the party was hopeful that all those who stand for faith and belief will support the BJP since it has made lot of sacrifices for defending the traditions and customs in Sabarimala.
The Congress camp is also worried about the NSS' equidistant stand in the polls. Though the NSS chief has given his blessings to the diplomat-turned politician (Kummanam), who belongs to the community, his camp feels that the stand declared by Nair will lead to confusion among the members.
Tharoor's complaint regarding non-cooperation from many local Congress units dominated by NSS workers is a reflection of the confusion in the NSS rank and file. The Congress candidate has heaved a sigh of relief after the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) deputed leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala, a blue-eyed boy of NSS, to monitor the campaign in the constituency and Nana Patrola, AICC general secretary from Maharashtra as the high command observer.
Tharoor, who had pressed into action his personal squads to canvas votes for him, said he was happy after the intervention by the KPCC. "I am happy the way the party is supporting me. I am getting the full support of the party. I am satisfied with the campaign,” he said.
What saved Tharoor last time was a lesser challenge from the Left Front. The CPI's decision to field a member of the Nadar community as an Independent candidate led to the shift of a sizeable chunk of traditional LDF votes to Tharoor and Rajagopal.
The pre-poll surveys predicting an upper hand for Kummanam has invigorated both the UDF and LDF camps to work more steadfastly against the BJP. The survey prediction has not made the saffron party complacent though. On the contrary, it has adopted an extra guard against possible cross voting by either of the traditional rivals to deny the BJP a victory in Kerala.
The BJP commands the loyalty of a section of Nair and Brahmin voters in the city who used to vote for the party even before Modi's rise to power. The party has to ensure the support of a lion's share of Nair voters if it wants to win the seat. BJP's poll managers hope that the Sabarimala issue would bring this additional vote and Kummanam would give the much-needed electoral breakthrough to the party this time.
However, with three high profile candidates in the fray, the outcome in the constituency is unpredictable.
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