As the campaign for the April 23 election peaks, Congress candidate Tharoor battles not only a determined BJP attempt to trip him in a seat that he won in the last two elections, but also the pressure of local opinion polls putting Kummanam ahead.
The question is whether the BJP will, at last, open its Lok Sabha account from Kerala.In 2014, Tharoor had bounced back dramatically in the very last round of counting from way behind the then BJP opponent O Rajagopal to score a narrow victory — the margin was just over 15,000 votes. His vote share crashed by 10 percentage points, while that of BJP gained by more than 20 points.
If the Congress is playing down Tharoor’s reduced margin by citing the then “Modi-wave” and an “anti-Congress mood” which it says are absent now, the BJP is banking on perceived ground support for its Sabarimala campaign to expand its vote base. And, to tap the ‘Hindu mood’, it fielded Kummanam, an original Hindu Munnani leader with close links to the RSS, after making him resign as the governor of Mizoram.
Kummanam told ET: “People’s sentiments are deeply hurt due to LDF government interfering with their faith (over Sabarimala). Voters here now look for an alternative beyond the Congress and the Left Front … As an MP, Tharoor failed to bring infrastructure and investment here.”
But Tharoor is a formidable rival. His persona and accomplishments have been helping add a ‘Tharoor constituency’ — comprising mostly women and youth — to the traditionally Congress base here. And that not-so-subtle projection of the ‘Nair’ in him has also tactically helped him slice the BJP’s core constituency.
Yet, the fact that the BJP almost breached his turf in 2014 — he could scrap through because of the upper hand the Congress retained in the costal Kovalam, Parasala, Neyyattinkara segments — makes predictions difficult. If his rivals unleashing trolls on Tharoor for his “squeamish” tweet about a fish-market was meant to provoke coastal fisherman community (mainly Latin Christians) that fished him out of electoral troubled waters last time, the BJP supporters raking about the comments on ‘Nair woman’, an imaginary character in a fiction Tharoor wrote more than 30 years ago, was aimed at rousing his own community.
“I am fighting this election by projecting my credible record as an MP which both the BJP and Left can’t challenge. Therefore, they are indulging in my character assassination by spreading falsehoods,” Tharoor told ET. “The BJP is also communalising the election by raking up the Sabarimala issue despite the fact the Modi government failed to move a Bill or Ordinance or a review petition to undo the SC order, something I demanded in Parliament.”
The saffron challenge to Tharoor and complaints that a section of Congress leaders were not cooperating with him have prompted the top leaders of the Congress in Kerala and the high command to push up his campaign. They are also targeting Kummanam as a “RSS hardliner” who could “foment communal tension” if elected, a move clearly aimed to consolidate the anti-BJP segments among the Hindu, Christian and Muslim voters.
THE LEFT ANGLE
A crucial factor in the battle would be how the Left fares — in 2014, its CPI nominee had slipped to a poor third position. The CPI has now fielded sitting MLA C Divakaran, with the aim of reviving the LDF’s anti-Congress base which the BJP has been chipping away. “Kummanam Rajasekharan is a typical RSS man whose rabid communal politics will be fought back by the Left. Being a high-flying MP, Tharoor has failed to address the daily civic issues,” Divakaran said. Yet, whether the Left will regain the equilibrium of a triangular fight here, or crack like 2014 triggering cross voting, will be a crucial factor in deciding who would represent the Kerala capital in Delhi.