Lok Sabha 2019: A battle between development and beliefs in Pathanamthitta

It’s a three-way contest in the constituency, which was at the heart of the Sabarimala protests last year.
Lok Sabha 2019: A battle between development and beliefs in Pathanamthitta
Lok Sabha 2019: A battle between development and beliefs in Pathanamthitta
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Pathanamthitta district, which is located in the central Travancore region in the southern part of Kerala, has always been considered as one of those “sleepy” districts, like the ones mentioned in RK Narayan novels. But within a span of just six months, Pathanamthitta has witnessed a drastic change. It grabbed international attention following the devastating Kerala floods in August last year, and the infamous controversy surrounding the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, located in the district.

Now, with the state of Kerala going to polls on April 23 for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Pathanamthitta will be one constituency which will be closely watched for several reasons.

Firstly, it is a triangular contest between United Democratic Front’s (UDF) Anto Antony, Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) Veena George, and National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) K Surendran. The contest in Pathanamthitta, just like in Thiruvananthapuram, will witness a two time MP, Anto Antony, looking for a third consecutive win; the LDF will be banking on Veena George’s popularity in the Aranmula region, where she is a sitting MLA; and K Surendran and the BJP will be riding on the Sabarimala wave.

Secondly, the BJP fielding K Surendran as their candidate in Pathanamthitta amidst a lot of deliberation and delay, can be seen as a strategic move – considering the fact that Surendran was the face of the Sabarimala protests across the state. It will be interesting to see whether the BJP will be able to use this factor to gain more votes in the constituency, or whether it will backfire.

Hattrick for Anto Antony?

The Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha constituency, which was formed in 2008, has witnessed two General Elections so far, in 2009 and 2014. Both times, UDF candidate Anto Antony emerged victorious. But just like his party colleague Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram, a third time victory is going to be an uphill task for Anto.

During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Anto Antony defeated CPI(M)’s K Anantha Gopan by a huge margin of 1,11,206 votes. But in 2014, his margin came down to just 56,191 against Peelipose Thomas, an independent candidate.

This time, there is a massive anti-incumbency wave against Anto. “In the last 10 years, there has not been any notable development in Pathanamthitta, with Anto Antony representing us,” said Francis, an autorickshaw driver in Adoor town in the Pathanamthitta constituency, “Take the example of Adoor. He has not done anything here apart from giving us a few lights. Even those are not working now.”

Biju, a rubber planter in Pathanamthitta, feels that Anto was not able to do much when it came to solving the rubber crisis in the area. Rubber plantation is one of the chief occupations in the central Travancore region of Kerala and over the years, rubber prices have been hit badly. “Everyone has been suffering because of the dip in rubber prices. Not just rubber, many other agricultural areas are suffering here. In the last 10 years, the current MP has not done anything to better our condition,” said Biju.

The other big challenge is that both his opponents this time around are prominent names.

Popularity of being Aranmula MLA

Going into the Lok Sabha elections, Veena George will be hoping that her popularity as the MLA in Aranmula constituency in Pathanamthitta district, and her career as a media professional, will act as an added advantage. There is also a talk among the people of Pathanamthitta that Veena George was handpicked by the party to contest in the constituency because of her Christian identity. “Pathanamthitta is a Christian dominated area, especially the Orthodox sect,” said Alex, who runs a hardware store in Ranni.

But having said that, there are certain concerns for Veena George regarding the way the LDF handled the floods, as well as the issue of women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple. A recent Amicus Curiae report had stated that poor dam management was the reason behind the floods.

Speaking to TNM, Veena George said that she is not too concerned about the Amicus Curiae report. “We are aware of the politics of the person who created the report. He used to hold a position in the Congress party. And as far as floods are concerned, I was right there on the ground with the people, during the floods and after it,” she said.

Veena also said that she is not too concerned about the popularity of the other two candidates contesting against her.

“I think the other two parties were concerned about their candidates contesting against Veena. The LDF was the first to announce their candidate and by the time the others settled their infightings and announced their candidates, Veena had already completed two to three rounds of campaigning,” said Francis.

BJP riding on Sabarimala

Pathanamthitta is one of the constituencies that the BJP is hopeful of winning in the state. However, when the BJP had initially announced their candidate list, they had not mentioned a name for the Pathanamthitta constituency much to everyone’s surprise. This was because of the fact that this seat was being eyed by many other state leaders of the party considering the Sabarimala issue, where the BJP feels that they “stood with the devotees”.

It is no surprise that the BJP went with K Surendran, who led a number of protests against the entry of women of all ages into the temple. It was with the arrival of K Surendran that Pathanamthitta became a constituency to watch out for. Surendran, who was arrested during the Sabarimala protests last year, had remained in jail for almost a month. It is very clear that the BJP is heavily banking on this issue to gain votes in the coming elections.

Development, not Sabarimala

Ramachandran Pillai, who runs a small restaurant tells TNM that Sabarimala will not be the major issue in Pathanamthitta as people claim it to be. Ramachandran is also a member of the Nair Service Society (NSS), an organisation of Nairs, a caste which were mostly against the SC verdict on Sabarimala. “The NSS consist of members with various political affiliations and people from various political parties. Please don’t think that an issue like Sabarimala will make all the NSS members to vote for the BJP,” said Ramachandran Pillai, adding that only three out of 100 people might vote on the basis of the Sabarimala issue.

According to Francis, there are around two lakh first time voters in Pathanamthitta. “The majority of the people going to vote this election will be the youngsters, which is the age bracket between 18 to 30. For them, development is the major issue and not Sabarimala.”

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