Decoding the possibility of BJP’s historic debut in Kerala

Will Rajasekharan topple Tharoor in keenly-watched Thiruvananthapuram constituency?

Shashi Tharoor

A decade ago, in 2009, after his return to India from a stint at the United Nations, Shashi Tharoor made his political debut with a whopping majority from the high-profile Thiruvananthapuram constituency. In 2019, he faces a changed Kerala and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in particular, is giving the MP a tough time this election season. In the last Lok Sabha polls, BJP leader O. Rajagopal had given Tharoor a scare. However, he managed to win with a reduced majority of 15,470 votes.

Opinion polls conducted by state-based media houses say that BJP will bag Thiruvananthapuram, and BJP thinks that it can open its Parliamentary account in the state from here, by toppling Tharoor. Tharoor looks vulnerable and that if the party can win any seat in the state this time, it will be here. Some other surveys also show that it will be either a neck-to-neck fight or a win for the BJP.

For the BJP, the journey from a non-serious challenger to either Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) or CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala to a serious contender and stakeholder has been slow but steady. In 1998, the BJP’s campaign spread through family networks. However, the party reached close to the 100,000 mark. But, the battle was still political between the Congress and the CPI in which K Karunakaran won with a margin of 15,000 votes. Buoyed by the growing support from the electorates, the BJP fielded O Rajagopal and in 1999, the party’s vote-share rose by 67 percent. The party fielded Rajagopal in 2014, and he almost won. Rajagopal harnessed the uniquely Hindu-majority demography of the district the most and had made the BJP a strong contender.

By fielding Kummanam Rajasekharan, the BJP candidate against Tharoor, who was until recently Governor of Mizoram, the BJP feels it can still raise the bar and tip the balance in its favour. Political observers say that the Hindu and Nair votes that Tharoor originally banked on are clearly no longer his constituency. In 2014, three minority constituencies (Nadar and Latin) saved him from the near-fatal finish. These communities’ votes decide the fate of the candidates in Thiruvananthapuram so much so that it had become a veritable minority constituency with only a Nadar winning the election. Their dominance in Kovalam, Neyyattinkara and Parassala has so far saved Tharoor.

There are reports that the local Congress units are working against him and the campaign on the ground is weak. In contrast, the BJP is firing on all the cylinders with the RSS cadres working at every scale. Rajasekharan has emerged as the most visible face.  Some of the controversial speeches he made against Christian encroachments in Nilakkal, near Sabarimala, had catapulted him to statewide attention. There is a common refrain that the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala, and the protests that gripped the state after that may have opened a new window for the BJP. It is to be seen how electorates react to the changing sentiments when they will come out to vote for their candidates. But one thing looks very clear: Tharoor’s poll battle is not easy this time around.