In his journal article 'Political Instability in Kerala: An Analysis,' researcher Oommen John puts Nemom under the constituencies that he has identified as those with a ‘high degree of instability.’ Among the several categories of constituencies he has identified, this is the one where voters change their party preference every few elections, with little or no consistency in their voting behaviour. But that’s not the reason Nemom is getting all the attention it does today.
A regular constituency in Thiruvananthapuram with 22 wards under it, Nemom got pushed to the limelight in the last Assembly election, in May 2016. For the first time in Kerala, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an Assembly seat in 2016, and that happened in Nemom. Until then, Kerala voted either the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to power.
O Rajagopal, the most prominent face of the BJP in Thiruvananthapuram, won Nemom, beating the sitting member, M Sivankutty of the CPI(M), by 8,671 votes. Rajagopal had lost two bye-elections and three Assembly elections before that, from various constituencies including Nemom in 2011, when Sivankutty had defeated him by 6,415 votes. In 2016, when Rajagopal won, Sivankutty garnered more or less the same percentage of votes (41 to 43%). O Rajagopal’s vote share, however, had a 10% increase – from 37% to 47%, at the cost of the votes of the UDF, which put Janata Dal (United)’s V Surendra Pillai as the candidate. Surendra Pillai got only 9.7% of the votes.
All eyes fell on Congress, which leads the UDF. Why would they not have a strong candidate there, was it an understanding with the BJP in exchange for favours in another constituency, critics asked. The UDF had won Nemom in 2001 and 2006 when they fielded Congress’s N Sakthan. In 2011, they gave the seat to their ally Socialist Janata (Democratic), which came in third place.
To set matters straight, as soon as the 2021 Assembly elections were announced, UDF leaders said that it would be a strong candidate this time in Nemom. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran kept building suspense till he announced the list on March 14. “I told you it will be a strong candidate,” he said before naming K Muraleedharan, popular Congress leader, a four-time Lok Sabha MP, and Congress veteran K Karunakaran’s son.
Interestingly, Karunakaran had once contested from Nemom and won too. This was in 1982 when he contested from his traditional constituency of Mala as well as Nemom, won both the seats, and then resigned from Nemom. “But in the bye-election that followed, VJ Thankappan of the CPI(M) won from Nemom. And the constituency fell into the CPI(M)’s hands for three consecutive terms,” says historian Malayinkeezhu Gopalakrishnan.
The same day that Muraleedharan’s name was announced for the 2021 polls, the BJP declared that Kummanam Rajasekharan will be fighting for Nemom, replacing Rajagopal, who turned a grand 90 last year.
Former BJP state president and Mizoram Governor, Kummanam Rajasekharan, too, has made a mark in the state – when he came in second place in Thiruvananthapuram for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Noticeably, he had a lead in only one of the seven Assembly constituencies over Congress’s Shashi Tharoor that year. And that was in Nemom, where he had a lead of over 12,000 votes.
He also came second in the Vattiyoorkavu constituency in the 2016 Kerala Assembly elections. Interestingly, it was Muraleedharan who beat him that year by a margin of 7,622 votes.
The LDF, too, has placed a reliable candidate in Nemom – Sivankutty, a former Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram who was the MLA there between 2011 and 2016. Even when Sivankutty lost to O Rajagopal in 2016, his vote share did not suffer, as mentioned above. His role in the 2015 Assembly ruckus during the budget presentation might, however, have proven disadvantageous.
Sivankutty is one of the MLAs of the LDF (then in Opposition) who tried to prevent UDF Finance Minister KM Mani from presenting the budget. Mani was facing charges in the bar bribery scam. They threw the Speaker's chair and allegedly damaged electronic equipment in the Assembly.
With all three prominent names figuring in Nemom, the proverbial wind can blow in any direction the voters please. Nemom, like Oommen John analysed in his 1992 paper, has never pledged allegiance to one particular front. It got tossed between the two major fronts of LDF and UDF for all the 60 years before 2016.
When the very first Communist government formed in the state in 1957, Nemom, too, had put their trust in the Communist Party of India candidate of the time – Sadasivan A. Three years later, the people of Nemom changed their mind and voted Praja Socialist Party – an ally of the Congress – to power. For the following elections, in 1965, the Communist Party had split into two and the CPI(M)’s candidate – another Sadasivan – got elected.
The victories of both Left and the Congress-led fronts in the Assembly polls till 2016 were almost exactly equal — seven each (excluding the bye-elections).
With K Muraleedharan’s entry, the earlier ‘weakness’ of the UDF candidacy has also now disappeared. In a cliché, this could be one of the few constituencies that will have a triangular fight as opposed to most others in the state, which could fall back on the two traditional fronts every time.
Going by the alternating character of the voting pattern, the scale points slightly in favour of Muraleedharan, who has become a popular leader since he won from the Vattiyoorkavu constituency last Assembly polls. He also has the added advantage of having beaten Kummanam Rajasekharan once. Incidentally, CPI(M) MLAs elected before Sivankutty mostly got two terms in office. Going by this voting pattern, Sivankutty, too, may probably have a chance of winning. And then again, Kummanam’s trump card is his popularity among Nemom voters as it was shown as recently as 2019, during the Lok Sabha polls, even as he stood against a popular Congress leader like Shashi Tharoor.