Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, is one single Lok Sabha constituency. As the city goes to the polling booths for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on April 23, the degree of political heat in the city is at its zenith. Making headlines at the national level, Thiruvananthapuram is also one among the very few constituencies in India where a photo-finish is predicted this time.
While incumbent Congress MP and former union minister Shashi Tharoor represents the United Democratic Front (UDF), arch-rivals Left Democratic Front (LDF) has decided to field a strong candidate in the constituency this time — senior CPI leader C. Divakaran. Adding to the intensity of the contest, BJP’s high command decided to introduce veteran leader and former Mizoram governor Kummanam Rajasekharan as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) contestant.
Even as Tharoor eyes a hat-trick win, it has to be recalled that his vote margin saw a big dip in 2014. While Tharoor defeated CPI candidate P. Ramachandran Nair by almost a lakh votes margin (99,998) in 2009, five years later (in 2014) he witnessed some nail-biting moments before emerging victorious against BJP veteran O. Rajagopal. The margin had come down to 15,470 by then.
The former diplomat professes there is “no Modi wave at all”, different from how the scene was in 2014. Taking on the LDF on the same note, he adds that Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan is no different than being another version of Modi in the state. Tharoor is also confident that there is no anti-incumbency sentiment at all as he prefers to uphold his decade-long achievements in bringing development to the constituency.
However, LDF’s Divakaran claims his engagement with voters over these days indicated that the incumbent MP (Tharoor) is someone who is not easily accessible. Taking a dig at Tharoor’s English proficiency, he says, “People here always prefer someone who has the ability to come down to their level to understand and fight for their issues. An MP should be able to replicate the citizens’ sentiments.”
LDF’s campaign also touches upon the Sabarimala issue alleging that Congress and BJP had the same stance, something that disturbs the secular fabric in and out. Being a local, born and brought up in Thiruvananthapuram, Divakaran has a different pitch: “This is my place since birth just like how it is for you. Vote for someone like you, someone who isn’t from another place, someone who has the habit of keeping promises and not faking them.” Both his big rivals are outsiders.
The NDA has been playing the Sabarimala issue as their trump card ever since the beginning of their campaigning. He repeatedly says that the state government has failed to keep up its ‘secular promises’ as it involved itself in the administration of a place of worship. “This has hurt the sentiment of the people in huge numbers in Kerala and I’m confident that this will have an impact at the polls,” he explains.
The NDA highlights three different issues this time – protection of faith, providing better security for the people and ‘real’ development. Kummanam claims that the constituency is neglected and is overseeing door-to-door campaigning with the aid of droves of RSS workers from neighbouring districts who have been camping in the district for the past three weeks.
Interestingly, voter trends of Thiruvananthapuram are highly unpredictable as the constituency has witnessed huge swings in the past. This is something that gives equal hopes to both LDF and NDA camps. However, Tharoor, the author of ‘Why I Am A Hindu’, has been instrumental in reaching out to devotees across faith by his presence in and around churches and mosques as well, encouraging dialogue. Even though he ended up hurting himself while performing thulabharam (the ritual where a person is weighed on scales against an offering to a temple deity), Tharoor chose to sport a Vivekananda-style headgear to continue campaigning after a day’s rest. Also an active social-media user, his tweet appreciating union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman visiting him while at the hospital had also gone viral recently.
As the triangular contest gets intense, party workers are putting in their best foot to ensure a positive result for the active groundwork they have been doing for quite some while now.