Thiruvananthapuram candidates: Will the city elect Kerala’s first ever BJP MP?

CONSTITUENCY ROUNDUP: 17TH LOK SABHA ELECTION

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As the campaigning ended on Easter Sunday for all 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala, the big question is whether the BJP will be able to get its first ever MP from the state.

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Intermittent summer showers did nothing to cool the campaigning fervour of the three main contestants – the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) working to keep its 12 seats intact, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) hoping to not lose any of its current eight seats, and the newly-energised BJP which is hoping to cash in on the sentiments raised over Supreme Court’s Sabarimala temple verdict.

The Thiruvananthapuram contest is the bellwether fight in Kerala. Incumbent Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor, 63, is up against a confident BJP nominee Kummanam Rajasekaran, 67. Kummanam’s campaign is making this a fight to “protect faith” and secure the country against “anti-nationals”. Meanwhile, LDF’s C Divakaran is fighting to regain CPM’s lost pride, having come a poor third in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll.

Since 1980, UDF has won this seat eight times and the LDF thrice. But the phenomenal growth in BJP’s support base here since 2009 saw the CPM conceding ground to senior BJP leader O Rajagopal. Rajagopal had lost in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, but had come second with a large vote share. He also got elected as the first and only BJP MLA in Kerala in the 2016 assembly election.

When Shashi Tharoor made his entry to the poll scene in 2009, he capitalised on his aura of a being global citizen and internationally-renowned writer, his suave charm and proven administrative acumen. Besides being a polyglot, his easy eloquence in English, handsome looks and confident body language found voters warming to him.

Even his heavily-accented Malayalam was accepted, as voters saw him as a globe-trotting former Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations, hobnobbing with world leaders like George Bush, Barack Obama and Tony Blair.

After coasting to a comfortable victory in 2009, he had to fight hard in 2014 to get a second innings despite his creditable performance in parliament. His opponent, BJP veteran O Rajagopal, had polled a surprising 2.82 lakh votes then.

It was only the hardcore support of Thiruvananthapuram’s fisherfolk, mostly from the Latin Catholic community, that enabled Tharoor to scrape through with a slender margin of 15,476 votes. Even this was possible only because of the cross-voting in his favour by CPM workers.

Five summers later, the political scene in the state and its capital has witnessed a sea change. Since the agitation to protect faith was launched in the wake of the Supreme court verdict on women’s entry into Sabarimala, the political mercury has soared, singeing every party and candidate.

Even before Kummanam’s arrival in Thiruvananthapuram, RSS and BJP workers had put in systematic groundwork to build support for him. In 2014, the BJP had topped in four of the seven assembly segments in the constituency, particularly the urban areas of Thiruvananthpuram, Vattiyoorkkavu, Kazhakoottam and Nemom, while Tharoor swept the coastal belt of Kovalam, Parassala and Neyyattinkara.

Tharoor is confident his minority vote bank is still intact and that they will vote en bloc to oust the Narendra Modi government. “It is a fight to ensure that Modi government is voted out,” he reminded his supporters.

Anticipating a repeat of cross-voting by LDF in favour of Tharoor, BJP workers are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that their support base, the Nair vote bank, remains intact. “BJP and RSS workers have come eight times to my house to canvas votes for Kummanam,” said Vibhushooshanan Nair, a voter in West Fort, Thiruvananthapuram. Nair had voted for Shashi Tharoor twice before. “Everybody knows Kummanam as a simple, down-to-earth, sanyasin-like human being in the attire of a political leader. He commands respect and love.”

Preetha, a native of Vattiyoorkkavu and a government servant, said she was confused. “I have voted twice for Tharoor and still have great respect for him. But when it comes to faith, it was the BJP and RSS workers who came forward to endure hardships for the devotees,” said Preetha.

Not surprisingly, Kummanam’s campaign harps on faith, development and security. “Faith is integral to our life,” said Kummanam at an election meeting on the outskirts of the city in the Vattiyoorkavu assembly segment. “Believers here suffered a lot at the hands of the Pinarayi Vijayan government”. He also met the CSI Bishop to canvas support from the Nadars, who number around 15 lakh according a 2016 study by the Centre for Development Studies.

Kummanam, the BJP State President from 2015 to 2018, had resigned as the Governor of Mizoram to contest this election. He has been a full-time Sangh Parivar worker since 1987, and was instrumental in spearheading Kerala’s Vishva Hindu Parishad and Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti.

Few give LDF candidate C Divakaran, 76, much of a chance, despite his familiarity with workers and middle-class voters. Considered by locals as a “son of the soil”, Divakaran, a former state minister and three-time MLA from Nedumangad assembly segment, was one of three CPM leaders who faced disciplinary action in the wake of allegations of ‘seat trade’ in 2014.

He is nevertheless putting up a brave face, and parrots the party line. “Voters here know me well. I am sure of victory,” said Divakaran. However, Divakaran knows better than most, that the real fight is between Tharoor and Kummanam.

Note – Map for representation purpose | Source – http://datameet.org

Full list of candidates

Candidate Name (click on candidate’s name to access affidavit) Party Assets Liabilities
KIRAN KUMAR S K

36, 12th std, Honorary Secretary at Co-op Society

Bahujan Samaj Party Rs 19.94 lakh Rs 5.95 lakh
KUMMANAM RAJASEKHARAN

66, B Sc (Botany), Former Governor of Mizoram

Bharatiya Janata Party Rs 11.06 lakh Nil
C DIVAKARAN

76, Graduate; Politician, MLA

Communist Party of India Rs 90.1 lakh Rs 13.18 lakh
DR SHASHI THAROOR

63, Doctorate; Social worker, author, speaker

Indian National Congress Rs 35 crore Nil
PANDALAM KERALAVARMARAJA

77, Graduate, Social Worker

Pravasi Nivasi Party Rs 63 lakh Nil
S MINI (F)

44, 12th Pass, Political activist  

Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) Rs 1.25 lakh Nil
CHRISTOPHER SHAJU PALIYODE

43, 12th std; Evangelist, social worker

Independent Rs 18.25 lakh Rs 3.3 lakh
GOPAKUMAR OORUPOIKA

44, 10th std, Mason

Independent Rs 3.10 lakh Rs 10,500
JAIN WILSON

59, Graduate, Social worker

Independent Rs 1 lakh Nil
JOHNY THAMPY

54, 12th std, Technician

Independent Rs 30,000 Nil
B DEVADATHAN

70, 10th std, KSRTC Pensioner

Independent Rs 75,000 Nil
BINU D

42, 10th std; Coolie, social worker

Independent Rs 1 lakh Nil
MITHRA KUMAR G

58, Postgraduate, Pensioner

Independent Rs 27.52 lakh Nil
VISHNU S AMBADI

34, Graduate, Business – online media (Vidaya Keralam)

Independent Rs 17.63 lakh Rs 59.7 lakh
T SASI

72, Graduate, Pensioner

Independent Rs 16.60 lakh Rs 3.69 lakh
M S SUBI

34, 10th std, Private Employee

Independent Rs 3.51 lakh Rs 3 lakh
NANDHAVANAM SUSEELAN

66, 8th std, Press

Independent Rs 3 lakh Nil

Source: https://affidavit.eci.gov.in/showaffidavit/1/S11/20/PC


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About N V Ravindranathan Nair 1 Article
N V Ravindranathan Nair is a Thiruvananthapuram-based journalist.