As Election Commission trends indicated that senior Congress leader and sitting Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor would win a third consecutive time from Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, BJP’s hope of winning its first ever Lok Sabha seat in Kerala were dashed.
Other than Wayanad, where Congress president Rahul Gandhi contested and is now winning with a huge margin, Thiruvananthapuram was the most high-profile and keenly watched constituency in Kerala, where the fight was largely between the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP. It was the lone constituency where Kerala’s ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) was pushed to the third position.
Contrary to opinion polls and exit polls which predicted a massive victory for BJP candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan, who relinquished the post of Mizoram governor to fight against diplomat-turned-politician Tharoor, the constituency is now standing clearly with the Congress. Even pockets like Nemam, Kazhakkuttam, Vattiyurkkavu and Thiruvananthapuram Central which used to vote in favour of BJP candidates have picked Tharoor this time in spite of a high-voltage campaign initiated by Sangh Parivar which invoked caste, community and religious sentiments and sought to capitalise on the protests against the Supreme Court verdict on the Sabarimala temple.
During its campaign, BJP leaders, including its national president Amit Shah, said the Sabarimala issue had created a golden chance for the party to reach out to devotees in Thiruvananthapuram to wrest the constituency from Tharoor. While BJP had also eyed a good showing in Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Palakkad and Kasargod constituencies, its actual hope rested on Thiruvananthapuram because of the dominant presence of upper caste Hindus.
While a clear Congress wave had been visible across Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram saw a massive consolidation minority votes here, which helped Tharoor win.
The Hindus, who had reservations about the way the LDF government insisted on implementing the Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple, preferred Congress over the BJP.
The state Congress also took a tactical stand by opposing the LDF government on the Sabarimala issue but without allowing the protests to turn into a law and order issue like the BJP had through hate-mongering.
The BJP had banked on the caste-based demography of the constituency. Compared to other parts of Kerala where the average Hindu population is about 55 percent, 67 percent of Thiruvananthapuram is Hindu. It also has the third highest population of Nairs in the state.
BJP has cherished hopes of a win in Thiruvananthapuram since 1998 when party candidate Kerala Varma Raja won 12.39 percent of the votes. Despite a poor organisational network, the party had been able to get one lakh votes in the constituency.
By 2014, BJP’s vote-share rose to 32.3 percent in the constituency because of the affinity senior party leader O Rajagopal enjoyed among caste Hindus.
Tharoor won because of the coastal assembly constituencies in Thiruvananthapuram favoured Congress.
BJP’s attempt to field another candidate with a similar profile failed. The party attempted to ride the Modi wave and promised clean governance and world-class development. The Sangh Parivar a launched a personal attack on Tharoor in connection with his wife Sunanda Pushkar’s death. Neither seemed to work.
Tharoor enjoys greater clout among the Nairs, especially among the community’s educated youth. During his campaign, the Congress leader projected himself as a ‘better’, more ‘civilized’ Nair. The Latin Catholics and the backward Nadars, the two other major communities, favoured Tharoor this time.
Along with the Muslims of the region, they consolidated votes in his favour. Rahul Gandhi’s entry into Kerala’s election scene as a candidate in Wayanad was an added boost for UDF candidates across the state.
A large number of traditional supporters of the CPI(M) and its alliance partners in Kovalam, Neyyattinkara and Parassala voted for Tharoor to defeat BJP, despite a sizeable section of Congress workers refraining from campaigning for him.
As a result, Tharoor attracted all segments of the society in Thiruvananthapuram, while Kerala kept BJP at bay, despite its landslide win at the national level and return to power.