In one of Kerala's most closely-watched battles, Thiruvananthapuram will witness a triangular tussle between the Left Democratic Front (LDF), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
UDF candidate Shashi Tharoor is the two time sitting MP from the constituency. Tharoor is up against the NDA’s Kummanam Rajasekharan, a BJP leader and former Governor of Mizoram; and the LDF’s C Divakaran, a former trade union leader as well as the sitting MLA of the Nedumangad constituency in Thiruvananthapuram. While Tharoor may hope for a third consecutive win riding on his successes in 2009 and 2014, it’s expected to be an uphill task for the Congress MP.
Shashi Tharoor is a popular figure in Thiruvananthapuram, and his victories in the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections is proof that the man has been well accepted by the people, many of whom feel that his image and his outlook is the need of the hour in the state.
“He is an educated person and to have him represent our constituency is a matter of pride for all of us,” says 39-year-old Ajitha, who manages a juice stall near the Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram.
But despite two consecutive wins, a section of people feel that Tharoor will face a challenging election as the state’s political and social condition has changed.
“It was not an easy victory for Tharoor in the 2014 elections as well,” says Krishnan, an autorickshaw driver in the state capital. During the 2014 elections, BJP candidate O Rajagopal gave Tharoor a tough fight but lost to Tharoor by just 15,470 votes as opposed to 2009, when Tharoor defeated CPI’s P Ramachandran Nair by a margin of 99,998 votes.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Thiruvananthapuram was the only constituency where the BJP managed to come in second. O Rajagopal then contested the Assembly elections in 2016, and is currently the MLA from Nemom constituency in Thiruvananthapuram district.
“The candidates that he is up against this time are not like the previous candidates he has faced,” says Krishnan.
CPI’s C Divakaran may have an advantage in the constituency as he was born and raised in Thiruvananthapuram. He is popular among trade union workers as has led many workers’ struggles and mass movements in the state.
Meanwhile, BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan, will be banking on the Sabarimala protests led by the BJP in Kerala and one opinion poll by a Malayalam publication has even projected him as the winner.
Factors that could work against Tharoor
Tharoor initially was in support of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Sabarimala case — in favour of the entry of women of all ages into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple — but took a softer approach towards those who were agitating against the verdict. Later, he changed his stance and maintained that the devotee sentiment needs to be taken into consideration by the court. Political analysts feel that despite Tharoor’s change in stance, a move to appease a portion of the Hindu community, there is a possibility that many of Tharoor’s traditional Nair votes could go to Kummanam Rajasekharan.
Speaking to TNM, J Prabhash, political analyst and retired professor of Political Science at Kerala University, says that the Sabarimala controversy could affect the Congress more than it would affect the Left.
“The LDF in Kerala is known to have their loyal set of voters no matter what, and that has been their strength. But, there are chances that a lot of neutral Hindus who used to vote for the Congress all this while could vote for the BJP because of the Sabarimala controversy,” he says.
“Thiruvananthapuram is known to be a constituency where minorities either vote mostly for the UDF or the LDF. This time around, the stand taken by Tharoor on the Sabarimala issue is known to have irked a certain section of the minorities, which means that there are chances that some sections of the minority votes could slip away from UDF to the LDF.”
Another point that analysts pointed out was that there are chances that a certain section of Congress voters could vote for the LDF this time. Tharoor was an outsider to Kerala politics when he joined the Congress in 2009, but with his victories in 2009 and 2014, he has snatched the Thiruvananthapuram seat from other senior Congress leaders who have been eyeing this seat from before. A third consecutive victory for Tharoor is likely to kill the hopes of these Congress leaders who have been eyeing the seat, and there are chances that their loyal workers would work against Tharoor this time around.
Prabhash went on to add that there is also a general feeling that Tharoor did not fulfill his promises in the last decade. “When he first became an MP, he had promised that he will develop the constituency to international standards. So, there is a feeling that this promise has not been fulfilled in the last 10 years,” he says.
For Joseph C Mathew, a political observer and IT advisor to former Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, C Divakaran is, without a doubt, a much better candidate than LDF’s candidate from Thiruvananthapuram in 2014, Bennet Abraham.
Bennett stood third in 2014. “Even though he secured third place, Bennet had managed to get almost two and a half lakh votes, which was only around fifty thousand votes less than Tharoor, who had won the polls,” Joseph says.
In 2014, it was Thiruvananthapuram’s coastal belt which boosted Tharoor’s vote share. Before that, it seemed that BJP’s O Rajagopal would win. Joseph says that this very same coastal belt can now pose a concern to Tharoor.
Will votes get divided?
“I am not unduly concerned about votes getting divided and I am confident that the voters of Thiruvananthapuram, who have supported me for the last 10 years, will once again repose their faith in me and give me the opportunity to be their voice at the national stage,” Tharoor tells TNM.
Tharoor states that both Kummanam Rajasekharan and C Divakaran are senior leaders who are respected within their parties, but "one could argue that neither have the necessary experience or even the demonstrated ambition to be an effective voice for the city.”