For the BJP in Kerala, the electoral battle in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram is another round of “now or never”. The party, which came very close to winning its first Lok Sabha seat in Kerala in 2014, is now again looking at a fierce three-cornered contest in the constituency, where Congress’s sitting MP Shashi Tharoor is eyeing a hat-trick and the LDF candidate, CPI legislator C Divakaran, is banking on the development agenda.
The BJP has fielded Kummanam Rajasekharan, who recently quit as Mizoram Governor, from Thiruvananthapuram where the party has gained strength over the last two decades. The seat has usually seen poll battles between the UDF and LDF but what makes the BJP confident this time is the party raising the Sabarimala issue in a constituency where 66 per cent of voters are Hindus.
“People of the constituency have realised the sincerity of the BJP for protecting traditions and faith. Besides, the achievements of the NDA government would also help the BJP-led NDA make a surge in the constituency. People are looking for a change as the constituency has been neglected in the last 10 years,’’ said Rajasekharan, an RSS pracharak who had led several agitations for protecting Hindu traditions as the general secretary of Hindu Aikya Vedi, a post he held for several years before becoming the BJP state president.
To further cash in on Hindu sentiments, BJP has hurled two allegations against Tharoor. BJP maintains that Tharoor insulted upper caste Hindu Nair women by dubbing them immoral in his fiction The Great Indian Novel published in 1989. The party also claimed that Tharoor was not a Hindu.
BJP’s attempt to tap sentiments of the Nair community stems from the realisation that the community makes up for 26 per cent of the Hindu population in the constituency.
Further, of the seven Assembly segments under the Lok Sabha seat, one is held by the BJP and the party finished the first runner-up in two other constituencies in the 2016 Assembly polls. The BJP received the maximum votes in four out of seven Assembly segments under Thiruvananthapuram in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
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Tharoor said the BJP is spreading canards about his satirical fiction. The novel had its background set 100 years before it was written and is a dialogue between two fictitious characters, he said. “BJP supporters have been exploiting a clerical error in a court verdict to say that I am not a Hindu. I had got the clerical mistake corrected by a High Court order in July 2018,” Tharoor said.
Tharoor is heavily banking upon his performance in Parliament. On Saturday, he brought a progress report on his one decade as MP, highlighting his role in all major projects in the state capital.
As Sabarimala issue remains on the top during campaigns, Tharoor put up a strong defence, saying “I had raised the issue in Parliament. BJP never tried to find solution… As the party ruling the Centre, BJP had the options of bringing out an ordinance, filing a review petition and going for a legislation. But the party did not bother about such steps.’’
While the BJP and Congress are struggling to depict themselves as protector of faith and traditions, LDF candidate C Divakaran is banking on the development and welfare initiatives of the LDF government in the state. “My track record is before the people. For the last 10 years, nothing has happened in the constituency. What happened to the twin-city project between Thiruvananthapuram and Barcelona (a promise made by Tharoor in 2009),” asked Divakaran.
The BJP’s votes had surged when the suave party veteran O Rajagopal was its candidate. While BJP’s P K Krishnadas bagged only 84,000 votes in 2009 in Thiruvananthapuram, the party polled 2.81 lakh in 2014 when Rajagopal was the candidate. Now, it is Rajasekharan’s task to keep afloat the BJP fortunes without Rajagopal.
As the Sabarimala issue keeps churning the 66 per cent Hindu votes, the stand of the Christian (19 per cent) and Muslim (14 per cent) communities would be crucial. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, votes from the constituencies of Parasala, Vizhinjam and Neyyattinkara, which have significant presence of minorities, helped Tharoor in the final round. The tilt of minority votes, which is being targeted by LDF and UDF, would be one of the decisive factors.