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Elections 2024: Tight race in Thiruvananthapuram: Tharoor is expected to prevail [George Abraham]


Following Tharoor behind his constituency ‘Paryadanam’ motorcade this time around evoked some earlier memories in me when he first ran for Parliament in 2009. At that point in time, there was novelty and simple curiosity about his candidature, always with a throng of people eagerly waiting to see him at every junction. Mothers with a child on their shoulders used to run up to the side of the road from their nearby houses to have a glimpse of him. Hence, times have changed, and Tharoor is now a familiar face and known quantity in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. Therefore, it has its pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, he can boast about his accomplishments on behalf of the constituents and his staunch defense of the Constitution and pluralistic principles; however, on the negative side, he is put on the radar for how his efforts have borne fruition for the people who have voted for him. That has always been a haunting dilemma for any incumbent. Tharoor has exemplified himself in Parliament and championed himself as a great critic of Modi's policies and a powerful advocate for democracy and inclusiveness.

However, when I survey the ground realities at play, one thing becomes quite clear: the Kerala electorate is no longer satisfied with simple explanations from the politicians but rather ready to take on politicians on complex issues for honest answers. A good example is the Vizhinjam port development and related issues. When Tharoor campaigned for the first time, one of the popular demands from influential circles was to get involved and make that a reality. He has succeeded in just doing that. He also publicly stated that when there was no bidder for the port development, he appealed personally to Adani to submit his bid. However, what that development entailed, or its aftermath and consequences, still needed to be fully grasped. Today, the coastal community is up in arms not only on the coastal erosions due to the development but also on the failures to rehabilitate those who were displaced because of it. Therefore, Vizhinjam is a two-edged sword that could come back and haunt Tharoor as he seeks another mandate.

The ongoing war between Israelis and Palestinians evokes strong reactions from the Muslim community in Kerala. In Kerala's political landscape today, the party in power and the Muslim community in particular are more vocal about what happened in Gaza, though justified, than what happened in Manipur, India. Many would dismiss Manipur as a fight between two tribes. Is it so? If that argument holds true, why, then, in a battle between Meiteis (mostly Hindus) and Kukis (mostly Christians), 249 Churches belonging to Meiteis Christians were destroyed in the first few days of fighting? In an era of sound bites, nobody seems to pay that much attention to those details!

However, the world knows about Tharoor's work with the Palestinians and where he stands firm behind the cause of a two-state solution. Yet, his statement critical of terrorist acts by Hamas that initiated the current fight is viewed unfavorably by a segment of the Muslim community. The CPM in Kerala, which is busy courting even the extreme elements to stay in power, suddenly found a weapon against Tharoor and that he is against the Palestinian cause. One has to wait and see whether that strategy will peel away some votes in that community. There is little doubt that a more significant vote share for CPI will only benefit the BJP candidate.

The third most common complaint I have heard from the party workers is accessibility. Undoubtedly, his staff could have done a better job as Tharoor is one of the busiest souls in the country, and there is great demand for his appearances and speeches in addition to his practical work in Parliament. One of the coastal area's social activists told me that Mr. Tharoor failed to talk about rehabilitating the displaced people from the Oki Disaster. Upon my query to verify the complaint, the Tharoor office has sent me several documents with his statements raising his concerns, especially in the Parliament. The media did not properly carry forward his statements in Lok Sabha. His office should have correctly translated or propagated many of these exchanges in English.

However, more than anything else, the elephant in the room is the CPM and their role in this fight. To those astute observers of Kerala politics, the reason for BJP's perennial failure to get a foothold in Kerala is apparent. In any election cycle, when a BJP candidate closes in on either UDF or LDF ones, many voters will switch their votes to deny the BJP the victory. The question is, will it happen this time around? Although UDF and LDF may want to state that the fight is between them, the reality in Thiruvananthapuram is quite different. Armed with tons of money, Rajiv Chandrasekhar, the BJP candidate, is said to be ready to buy anything and everything. There are even allegations that some of the resources might have been diverted to activists from various parties and even minority religious leaders. However, the real worry for the Tharoor campaign must be whether there is any behind-the-scenes understanding between BJP and CPM.

The world knows about all the allegations of corruption by Pinarayi Vijayan and his family members. While Modi's ED is busy arresting and jailing opposition leaders and other opponents of the current regime across the country, how does the Chief Minister of Kerala go scot-free? Even the Delhi CM Kejriwal is in prison without any substantial evidence of wrongdoing yet; there is hardly any investigation into the gold smuggling, Life mission, Cochin Minerals payments, and so forth by the famed Agencies, let alone the Lavalin case being postponed multiple times upon the request from the prosecution's side. The BJP government keeps contending that specialized agencies are only doing their jobs. If so, how would they justify their inactions in this regard?

In the same way, Vigilance in the state is not doing any better either, having failed to find the source of the three crores of rupees of black money recovered during the last election cycle allegedly from people with links to the BJP. All of these spark suspicion that there is an underlying agreement between BJP and CPM. The question then is, what is the deal here? Is there a quid-pro-quo in the works for the CPM finally to enable the BJP to open an account for the Lok Sabha from Kerala? Only time will tell.

Despite all the advantages of money and power, Rajiv Chandrasekhar is proving himself a dud. He is unwilling to debate Tharoor, although he is touted here as yet another 'global citizen' with a great background. When a reporter asked Chandrasekhar what he has done for Karnataka as their Rajya Sabha MP, in addition to showing his ignorance of an ongoing project, he not only fumbled but dismissed it as an out-of-state question while repeatedly accusing Tharoor of not doing enough in TVM. Chandrashekar made his early riches primarily through his in-law's company, BPL. A report available in the public domain states, "Before Chandrasekhar sold his BPL stake, his father-in-law took him to court for mismanagement of the company and discrepancies in the shareholding pattern in 2004 and file petition to restrain Chandrasekhar from selling or transferring BPL Mobiles without his consent."

Now, we know that on his nomination form, he listed his total assets as around 28 crore rupees and a taxable income of Rs. 680. Video circulating on social media details his holdings in various entities, including shell companies abroad. In those reports, it is estimated that he may be worth around 7500 Crores. He could legally justify it through 'smart' accounting for tax purposes. However, the very fact the Modi administration, which once proclaimed to bring all black money back to India, has just crowned someone as a candidate who possesses excellent expertise as to how to hide his assets. They are some of the spokespersons who lecture ordinary people like us about patriotism and nationalism. If these allegations are proved correct, it is fraudulent misrepresentation while deceiving the voters in Thiruvananthapuram by not telling the truth. Moreover, It is indeed an integrity issue, and whether the voters want to be represented by such a character come April 26.

Another challenging issue for the Tharoor campaign is how to counter a BJP narrative that is undoubtedly taking a perch in the minds of this constituency's elites and the upper middle class. According to several people I talked to, the conversation goes like this: 'Modi is going to win anyway, Congress has no future, if Chandrasekhar wins, he might do something for Thiruvananthapuram'! There is very little doubt that people are being brainwashed about the inevitable victory of Modi through their effective propaganda network. The upper echelons of society all over India do not care, as they have no stakes in this election. Nevertheless, the Tharoor campaign needs to respond to this very quickly before it gains any more momentum.

There is little doubt that some disgruntled Congressmen and jealous leaders are in the Tharoor camp. To them, a Tharoor defeat or his banishment from the political arena is welcome, and many empires/endeavors have failed not due to external threats but because of the conflicts within. Those elements could come through the front door, and not only would they end up wreaking havoc, but they would also be capable of giving a devastating blow to the leadership. That may explain why a couple of Tharoor's ‘Paryadanams’ were marred by some dissenting voices and shouting slogans in trying to create a stir. Many of them, like in the media, may allegedly be bought off and become tools in the hands of the BJP.

Despite all the hurdles, the people of Thiruvananthapuram will choose to preserve the Constitution and our way of life. Keralites are a competent electorate who can distinguish the wolves in Sheep's clothing. Ultimately, common sense will reign, and Tharoor is expected to prevail.