By Sushil Kutty
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor faces a 10-year anti-incumbency in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency, which sent him twice to Parliament, once as a raw politician with only a clutch of books and a long stint in the United Nations to talk about. His lack of command in Malayalam was thought as a handicap, but the Thiruvananthapuram electorate found his fresh looks and UN record a departure worthy of reward. 2014, he repeated the feat without breaking a sweat.
But this time around, the third time, it isn’t that easy. His BJP opponent Kummanam Rajashekharan is a Hindutva icon of sorts in Kerala and “loved by all”, pitted into the fray on the back of the Swami Ayyappa issue which to an extent consolidated Hindu votes.
Tharoor hopes to win third term based on his “work” in the constituency; in the building and commissioning of the Kollam Bypass which was opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently. The former Union Minister also points to the contributions he has made for bringing about conditions favourable for another international airport in the Kerala capital.
There are several other development works with which he has been closely involved and which he believes will see him romp home a third time. These apart, a Tharoor has also striven to keep his “secular” credentials intact by going all out against the BJP’s “divisive agenda”. And, every time he spoke, he made headlines and created controversy. His “Hindu Pakistan” comment rocked not just Kerala, it reverberated all over India.
Wednesday, Tharoor lodged a complaint after “BJP fliers” seeking “votes in the name of Swami Ayyappa” hit Thiruvananthapuram; against the Election Commission order not to use the Ayyappa Temple issue in these general elections. But to get the EC pass strictures against the BJP will not help keep the lid on Ayyappa.
The celibate deity and the Supreme Court order allowing women of ages to enter the Sabarimala temple is the single most important issue in vast swathes of Kerala and Thiruvananthapuram happens to be one of the swathes. State media predict a tough no-holds barred contest between Kumannam and Tharoor, with the one with Swami Ayyappa’s blessings expected to come out on top.
The UDF and the Congress do not seem overly or overtly worried. At least there is no nervousness showing. For the Congress the attention is more on the Vadagara parliamentary constituency, which is believed to a be a CPM stronghold, but got a “mighty challenger” the other day in the persona of K Murleedharan, the son of the late Karunakaran, several times Chief Minister of the state.
Murleedharan’s CPM rival P Jayaram is a victim as well as alleged perpetrator of political violence, his name linked to murders and assaults. Jayaram is a minister in the Pinarayi Vijayan Government, having been elected an MLA from Vattiyurkav assembly constituency, which is part of Tharoor’s Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency.
Though far-fetched, some people are talking of the BJP not only opening its MP account in Kerala, but doing so with two or even more seats at the expense of the LDF. The BJP vote share has more than doubled in the wake of the Sabarimala imbroglio and the loser, it is believed, is the CPM. But whether the increase in votes will translate into seats is not easy to hazard a guess. Mr Tharoor is living in the hope that it will not, but when Ayyappa fliers appear out of nowhere to remind voters of Ayyappa’s plight, they give him the jitters. Mr Tharoor has to win a third term and part of ‘why?’ is also “personal”. (IPA Service)