BJP has decided to field actor Suresh Gopi from this seat. Whether he’ll eat into LDF’s vote share or UDF’s is the real question.

Analysis The polarised Hindu vote will decide who wins Thrissur this time
news 2019 Lok Sabha Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - 11:08

In the ‘cultural capital’ of Kerala, Thrissur, it’s a three-way battle this time around between Rajaji Mathew Thomas of the CPI(M)-led LDF, TN Prathapan of the Congress-led UDF, and actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi of the BJP-led NDA. While the candidates and their campaign managers scream and shout about political and social issues on the campaign trail, the real game is how to manoeuvre the prevailing religious and caste composition in the constituency to their advantage.

Muslims account for 16% votes in Thrissur and Christians, 35%. Traditionally, pollsters have asserted that the swing in minority votes will determine the outcome in this constituency.

However the Sabarimala agitation and the entry of Suresh Gopi as the BJP candidate have injected some unpredictable changes in the political landscape here this time around.

The present scenario

Currently, the Thrissur seat is held by the LDF; CN Jayendran of the CPI won the seat in 2014 by a margin of 38,277 votes. In the Assembly Elections held in 2016, LDF managed to win all seven Assembly segments in the Parliamentary seat quite comfortable. Considering this, the seat should be considered an easy one to win for the ruling coalition in the state.

However, the Congress launched its campaign in the constituency on a rather confident note, and this optimism was substantiated by opinion polls.

Congress confident of a victory

The latest survey by a prominent Malayalam news channel has predicted that UDF candidate Prathapan was likely to secure 36% votes in the constituency, and gave his opponents Rajaji Mathew Thomas and Suresh Gopi 32% and 26% vote share respectively.

But the Congress has seen mixed fortunes in Thrissur. While PC Chacko and AC Jose have held the for multiple terms in the past, in recent years, party stalwart K Karunakaran and his son K Muraleedhran have tasted defeat from this minority-dominated seat.

And the fact that Thrissur witnessed intensely emotional and violent agitations in the backdrop of the Sabarimala judgment, will need to be taken into account this time around.

BJP’s Thrissur gameplan

When the poll season began, BJP was rating Thrissur as one of the four A+ seats in the state in terms of their electoral prospects. But their ally, Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) – the political outfit patronised by the Ezhava outfit Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) – wanted this seat.

BJP insisted that it will leave the seat to the BDJS only if Thushar Vellappally, the chief of BDJS and the son of the SNDP supremo Vellapally Nateshan, is fielded here. Considerable time was lost in the negotiations – and just two days after Thushar’s candidature was announced for Thrissur, he decided to jump to Wayanad to contest against Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

NDA workers were deeply disillusioned as they had made significant progress in the campaign front by projecting Thushar as their candidate. However, their morale was restored with the decision to field Suresh Gopi as the BJP candidate.

This actor-turned Rajya Sabha member managed to reinvigorate the NDA campaign within hours of filing his nominations through his controversial statements on the Sabarimala issue and thrilling gestures, familiar to the people through his action films.

How Suresh Gopi can turn the tables

Film stars are generally not welcome figures in electoral battles in Kerala. Film personalities like actor Murali and Lenin Rajendran were routed even with Left support in the past. Ganesh Kumar, MLA and former minister, was probably the first film star to win elections, initially with the support of the UDF and later with the backing of the LDF. Recently actors Mukesh and Innocent have also won electoral battles with LDF support.

Now a major question that is being debated is – whose camp will suffer because of the votes garnered by Suresh Gopi – Prathapan’s, or Rajaji’s?

Conventional wisdom indicates that enhanced vote share for the BJP will be at the expense of the Congress support base. But Congress leaders counter this by arguing that both leaders and cadres of Nair Service Society (NSS) and SNDP have not come out in the open to support the BJP, and that will mean advantage Congress.

Will community groups back Congress?

SNDP support would have been almost total for the BJP/NDA if Thushar was contesting from Thrissur. But most SNDP leaders in the district are traditionally pro-Congress, and many of them may not be keen to back Suresh Gopi.

The NSS has also decided to stick to its diplomatic ‘equidistant’ stand in Thrissur. Suresh Gopi had earlier strained relations with the NSS when he barged into the meeting hall at the organisation’s headquarters, when the annual budget was being presented. And the tensions were apparent when NSS denied permission for Suresh Gopi’s chopper to land at the NSS college ground when he went there on Monday to request the support of the NSS leadership.

The NSS wants to target the LDF this time in the backdrop of the Sabarimala issue. The leadership has appealed to the supporters not to ‘waste votes’ by voting for candidates who are sure to be defeated, in the battle against the LDF. The Congress feels this stance will be in their favour.

Both the LDF and UDF are claiming that the minority votes will be consolidated in their favour. Prathapan claims good rapport with the Muslim community. According to the Congress leaders the pastoral letter read in the various churches on last Sunday has appealed to community members to effectively use their franchise to ensure the formation of secular government at the Centre.

Either way, the poll outcome in Thrissur will be beyond predictions this time as it will be decided not just by the swing in minority votes, but by the intra-community polarisation in the Hindu community.

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