Kerala’s capital Thiruvanan-thapuram has always been a testing ground for the BJP and parties aligned to its ideology.
In 1984, when P Kerala Varma Raja, of the Travancore royal family, contested the Lok Sabha elections for the Hindu Munnani, the consolidation of Hindu votes shook the political fabric of the state. So much so, that Communist veteran E M S Namboothiripad was forced to push out a splinter Muslim League group from the Left front. Varma eventually finished third.
In the years since, the influence of the BJP has grown in the district, which still retains a soft corner for the royal family. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, O Rajagopal gave a scare to the CPM-led LDF and Congress-led UDF when he was ahead of Shashi Tharoor in the first few rounds of counting. Seven years later, Rajagopal opened the BJP’s account in the Assembly by winning from Thiruvananthapuram’s Nemom.
Today, of the 14 Assembly seats in the district, BJP candidates are in the race in at least four: ex-state chief Kummanam Rajasekharan (Nemom), state general secretary Sobha Surendran (Kazhakkoottam), actor Krishna Kumar (Thiruvanan-thapuram city) and senior leader V V Rajesh (Vattiyoorkavu).
There are a couple of other heavyweights too in the fray from the district: P K Krishnadas (Kattakada) and state secretary C Sivankutty (Aruvikkara).
In Nemom, with a majority of voters upper-caste Hindus, P Manoj, a businessman and BJP supporter, says “it’s Pinarayi Vijayan vs Narendra Modi in Thiruvananthapuram”. “In almost every constituency in the district, the BJP will give a scare to LDF and UDF. In Kazhakootam and Nemom, the fight is between the NDA and LDF.”
Manoj is among those who once tagged as “silent BJP voters”. Today, they are loud and vocal.
For the record, the party’s Assembly poll vote share in Thiruvananthapuram has never gone beyond 16%. But its candidates came second in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
This time, the party is banking on Thiruvananthapuram, where upper-caste Nairs constitute almost 30% of the Hindu population, to increase its tally.
In Kazhakkoottam, a number of voters say the fight is between Sobha Surendran and the CPM’s Kadakampally Surendran. The streets are lined with huge posters and hoardings of the NDA and LDF.
Thiruvananthapuram is also where the BJP is projecting itself as the ‘defender of the faith’ over Sabarimala temple entry. Both the UDF and NDA are trying to cash in on the issue, which cost the LDF the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
“The Sabarimala issue is important for us. We are with the BJP,” says Baby Saroja, who sells groceries in Kazhakkoottam.
LDF candidate V Sivankutty’s supporters argue in Nemom that the state government had no role in the Sabarimala issue. “The Congress wanted to get the BJP vote in the (2019) Lok Sabha elections, so it became an issue,” says Krishnankutty, a driver.