Shashi Tharoor in a stiff triangular contest
A fierce triangular political battle is on the cards for the Lok Sabha seat from Kerala capital among Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, anaesthesiologist-turned- Left candidate Bennet Abraham and BJP veteran O Rajagopal.
For Dr Tharoor, who recently lost his wife and is mired in one controversy after another, it is going to be a do or die battle to retain the seat for the Congress by projecting the developmental activities being carried out in the constituency for the past years. He faces a stiff challenge from political debutant Bennet Abraham who belongs to the Christian Nadar community, considered to be a 'Congress vote bank' in the state capital. Former Minister O Rajagopal of the BJP too is likely to eat into a share of Nair community votes, another 'Tharoor vote bank.'
As the campaign for the April 10 Lok Sabha elections reaches its final pitch, political pundits are not ready to rule out any of the three contestants. In fact, it is the only constituency out of the state's 20 where there is a tri-cornered fight both in letter and spirit.
Dr Tharoor, a former UN Under Secretary General, is confident of repeating his dazzling performance on his electoral debut in 2009 when he won by a huge margin of nearly one lakh votes.
"My work for the past five years is before you to judge," he told a group of people in a coastal village. "My promise is that if you elect me again, I will use all my ability and contacts to bring more development here," he added.
Much before the Congress announced his candidature, Dr Tharoor erected flex boards throughout the constituency to highlight the developmental activities carried out over the past five years, prompting the Opposition to rake up the controversy relating to the mysterious death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar. However, Dr Tharoor approached the election commission to seek a ban on personal attacks. Thereafter, the focus of the campaign was shifted mainly on developmental activities as Thiruvananthapuram is considered one the country's most educated and fiercely politically conscious parliamentary constituency. Though Dr Tharoor had an 'outsider' image when he contested first time, the voters showed their respect for his ability and accomplishment. He also carried out a series of developmental activities, including the initiatives for Vizhinjam international transhipment project, national highway bypass developement, bringing several institutions to the state capital. However, a personal tragedy in his family, that too just before the announcement of the elections, had already damaged his reputation.
"I could see only a few women voters in his meeting this time. The situation was entirely different last time as women in large numbers turned to have a glimpse of him," said Raju of Neyyattinkara. Left leaders are trying to project him as 'anti-woman' leader.
But Dr Tharoor's team is fully confident that such malicious campaign or attempts to divide caste votes would not be sufficient to ensure the win for the Left or the BJP.
Dr Tharoor also updates his social media friends through regular tweets and facebook posts on his campaign everyday. Whether it is a visit to a religious place or discussion with a fisherwoman, he posts photos whenever he gets a little time while moving from one election meeting to another.
On the other hand, his Left rival Bennet Abraham is campaigning in a systematic manner as directed by dedicated party workers.
"If I am given a chance, I will fight against price rise in Parliament, carry out development activities and solve drinking water and garbage problems," he told an election meeting.
He dismissed the allegations that the seat was allotted to him by the CPI only with an eye on dividing the Chrisitan Nadar vote bank, considered to be one of the crucial factor in deciding the poll verdict. "I am not a payment candidate. My candidature is a recognition of the three decades of social service associated with the CSI mission hospital," said Dr Bennet, who is the Director of the hospital. He is also a former member of the Kerala Public Service Commission.
Posing a tough challenge to both the Congress and Left candidates is eighty-five-year-old Rajagopal, who served as a minister of state in the Vajpayee government.
The BJP is pinning its hope to open its account in the southern state through Mr Rajagopal, a familiar name in the constituency. When he contested here for the first time in 1999, he secured 21 per cent votes and improved further in 2004 by getting 29.86 votes.
His campaign is mainly focused on his contributions as Union Minister of State for Railways and also of Parliamentary Affairs during the NDA rule. He claimed that many new trains could be introduced during his tenure, but the successive governments had ignored Kerala. He promised development of the coastal area and of Vizhinjam port if the Narendra Modi Government came to power after the Lok Sabha elections.
This time, Aam Admi Party has fielded IPS officer Ajith Joy in this constituency. Though it is a tough task to make space among the highly politicised voters,but he is making his presence felt through grassroot work.
All together, there are 20 candidates in the fray for Thiruvananthapuram.
The Lok Sabha segment which consists of seven Assembly constituencies between Kazhakuttam and Neyyattinkara, has a total electorate of 12,42,901. The 6,45,095 women voters have an edge over the 5,97,806 male voters in the constituency.
(Posted on 01-04-2014)