Denial of Assembly tickets to two women leaders in Kerala sparks debate

While Kerala Mahila Congress President Lathika Subhash resigned from her post and tonsured her head in public in protest, BJP’s Sobha Surendran was more restrained.
A collage of former Kerala Mahila Congress President Lathika Subhash in a light blue saree and blouse, and BJP’s Sobha Surendran in a dark blue saree
A collage of former Kerala Mahila Congress President Lathika Subhash in a light blue saree and blouse, and BJP’s Sobha Surendran in a dark blue saree
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Two women candidates in Kerala lost an opportunity to contest in the upcoming Assembly polls but gained the sympathy of a large section of people as Malayalam news channels chose to debate, on prime time, the “denial of seats” to them by their respective political parties.

The two leaders are Kerala Mahila Congress President Lathika Subhash in the factional-feud embroiled Congress, and one of the prominent faces in the BJP in Kerala, Sobha Surendran.

Both chose to react to the situation in contrasting fashion.

While Lathika Subhash chose to tonsure her head in public in protest, Sobha was more restrained. But in a statement, evidently blended with sarcasm, Sobha wished good luck to BJP state President K Surendran who has been fielded in two constituencies, namely, Manjeshwaram in Kasaragod, and Konni in Pathanamthitta, one of the epicentres of BJP’s protests against permitting women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple following the Supreme Court order of September 2018.

Speaking to reporters after she was “denied a seat” on Sunday, Sobha said that Surendran has been blessed with an opportunity denied to senior leaders like the late ‘Mararji’, Kummanam Rajasekharan and O Rajagopal. She wished Surendran and all the BJP candidates good luck.

However, Sobha told TNM that she had informed the national leadership that she did not want to contest this time. The reason for her decision, she said, was to give a chance to new faces.

“I’ve contested seven times and I know the pulse of the people. This will come in handy when I campaign for the party candidates,” she said.

K Surendran, who was on his way to Konni on Monday morning, was not immediately available for comment.

It is learnt that Sobha was “sidelined” by the faction led by Surendran for nearly one year.

Sobha Surendran was a former member of the BJP national executive. Surendran’s elevation to the party president post in February last when Sobha was a general secretary and the alleged sidelining of party functionaries supporting her was reported to be one of the factors that contributed to the rift between her and the official faction. She was allegedly ignored when the party was reorganised at that time and lost the post of Mahila Morcha vice-president and was also moved out of the party’s core committee. Sobha and the leaders supporting her reportedly wrote to the national leadership conveying an attempt by the state leadership to politically annihilate her. Her frustration of being sidelined in the party was widely reported in the media in October-November last year. At the time, Surendran feigned ignorance of the discord within the party.

After abstaining from party activities for several months, including campaigning during the state local body polls, Sobha attended a meeting chaired by BJP President JP Nadda in Thrissur last month.

Though the central leadership intervened – at one point, Sobha even went to Delhi and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi – it failed to break the ice.

Gladwin Emmanuel is a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

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