The image of a son who went against his father haunts Anil Antony in Pathanamthitta

The political rift between Anil Antony, who recently joined the BJP, and his father and veteran Congress leader AK Antony, has triggered a deep-seated emotional wave among the voters in Pathanamthitta.
AK Antony and Anil Antony
AK Antony and Anil Antony
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The shadow of familial discord, centered on a son who “betrayed his father," haunts Anil K Antony's candidacy in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha constituency. The rift between Anil, who recently joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his father and veteran Congress leader AK Antony, has triggered a deep-seated political and emotional wave among the voters in Pathanamthitta.

"Remember AK Antony’s face when he addressed the media just after Anil joined the BJP? His eyes were brimming with tears. We believe that a son who hurts his father will not see good fortune," said Jacob M, a former Congress supporter from Pala in Kottayam. Though Jacob has now switched allegiance to the BJP, he told TNM that he does not favour Anil. "AK Antony and Oommen Chandy were our ideal leaders. Without them, the Congress is dead. I now place faith in the BJP, but I cannot accept a son who has betrayed his father," Jacob added.

Like Jacob, many voters in the Pathanamthitta constituency who support the BJP, are not in favour of Anil.

It was in early April 2023 that Anil joined the BJP, to which his father had an emotionally charged response. "I don't know how long I will live, but I don't wish for more days. I will always remain loyal to the Nehru family and the Indian National Congress," AK Antony had told the media back then.

The Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha constituency has been loyal to the Congress for over a decade and a half, and incumbent MP Anto Antony has retained his seat since 2009. A good majority of the voters in Pathanamthitta are from the Christian faith, and in this election, all major fronts have fielded Christian candidates from the constituency – Anto Antony for the United Democratic Front ( UDF), Thomas Isaac for the Left Democratic Front ( LDF), and Anil Antony for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Notably, in the 2019 general elections, the BJP's state party president K Surendran secured 28.97% of the vote share – cited as one of the highest amassed by the BJP in Kerala. The emergence of Anil Antony as the NDA’s candidate in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls has now also sidelined the aspirations of former MLA PC George, a veteran ex-Congressman with a significant following in the constituency.

Is PC George a better prospect for the BJP than Anil?

George joined the BJP in January 2024, and many voters in the constituency, including Christian leaders in Poonjar and Pala, speculate that he would have posed a more formidable challenge to the UDF’s Anto Antony. When Anil was announced as the NDA candidate, George initially expressed displeasure. "Nobody knows Anil Antony, and it is an uphill task to introduce him to the constituency. The only thing that is in favour of him is that he is the son of AK Antony. But since Antony is a Congressman, this may not be of any advantage to Anil,” PC George had said. But he later conceded.

On March 9, Mahashivratri day, George accompanied Anil Antony to the Thrippara Mahadeva temple, where the duo were seen praying together. "I am holding discussions (with bishops) to get their support for Anil. I have gained their support through my long-standing interactions with them over time and I am trying to leverage it to benefit Anil," George had said.

TM Rasheed, a former CPI(M) leader and former councilor of the Erattupetta municipality, told TNM that he believes George would have won, had he been fielded. "George is well accepted among Christian rightwing groups, as well as the non-politicised Christians here. Additionally, he would also have secured the BJP votes which K Surendran had garnered last time in Pathanamthitta," said Rasheed.

A Catholic priest from the Pala diocese also echoed Ratheesh’s observations. "If PC George had been the BJP’s pick, he would have garnered significant support, especially from the Christian community, and perhaps he could have won," the priest told TNM.

Even if Anil manages to rise above PC George to garner ground support, his image as a “son who went against his father” is likely to cost him in the constituency.

The moral burden of a “son who betrayed his father”
The peculiar position of Anil Antony as a son who hurt his father, especially when the father is a respected leader like AK Antony, has stirred strong emotions among voters in Pathanamthitta.

"People here were once Congress supporters, including those who now sympathise with the BJP. They still have an affinity towards AK Antony. Moreover, the moral burden of a son disregarding his father is going to cost Anil," said another priest from the Pala diocese.

In a recent political spat on April 9, AK Antony had stated that his son should not win in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. "He (Anil Antony) should lose, and the Congress should win. There's no doubt that Anto will win comfortably. The Congress is my only religion," Antony had said.

In response, Anil criticised the Congress, stating that it had lost prominence after 2014. Indirectly referencing his father's remarks, he also suggested that some Congress leaders are like dogs barking at the moon.

Acknowledging the sentiments of the voters about this father-son tussle, Union Minister Rajnath Singh had urged Anil to seek his father's blessings and support. "AK Antony might face pressure from his party, but he should support his son, who is doing well in the BJP," Singh emphasised in Kottayam on April 18, also advising Anil to touch his father’s feet on the polling day to seek blessings.

Gauging the general mood of Pathanamthitta, Baiju Joseph, a resident of Aranmula, and a former CPI(M) worker, told TNM that Anto Antony may retain his seat. "Considering the present situation, the Christian votes are unlikely to split, and they would mostly go to Anto,” he said.

It is also widely speculated that PC George is not entirely happy about Anil, though he has been performing otherwise for optics. “It is unclear if George will really seek votes for Anil, and this is expected to benefit Anto. However, if there is going to be a major split in Christian votes, then that could also help Thomas Isaac. We should wait and see," Baiju added.

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