Home / Politics / News /  In Kerala, parties find no easy answer to who can defeat Tharoor

BENGALURU : The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is snapping at the heels of Shashi Tharoor, the two-time Congress member of parliament (MP) from Thiruvananthapuram. But Tharoor has one blessing to thank for: The lack of a strong candidate among his rivals.

The controversy over allowing women of all ages at Sabarimala put Tharoor in a tight spot in his constituency, with the influential Nair Service Society, which had previously backed the Congress, siding with the BJP. It was in this context that Tharoor, who calls himself an instinctive liberal, supported continuing the ban at Sabarimala as an “essential religious practice".

The statement may have won him support of some upper caste Nairs, but it may also have alienated others, including lower-caste organizations and liberals.

Last time, the BJP’s most popular leader O. Rajagopal had lost to Tharoor by just 15,470 votes. Rajagopal later became the party’s sole member of legislative assembly (MLA) and does not want to contest the general elections. The BJP then approached top Malayalam actor and Padma Bhushan awardee Mohanlal to contest, but he declined the offer as well.

According to a BJP leader, state unit president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai has suggested the names of Mizoram governor and former BJP Kerala president Kummanam Rajasekharan, actor and Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi, state leader K. Surendran and Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to the party’s central leadership. Some BJP functionaries led by Rajya Sabha MP V. Muraleedharan skipped a leadership meet on Friday in protest over the list of probables.

“None of these names are inspiring a strong contest. Governors returning to normal politics is an unlikely scenario, so Kummanam might not contest. Sitharaman shall contest from a more promising seat. Gopi does not have clout like Rajagopal. And Surendran is stuck with internal opposition," the BJP leader cited above said.

The Left Democratic Front, which typically fields a Communist Party of India candidate in Thiruvananthapuram, is also in two minds. If it fields a strong candidate, it might split the anti-Tharoor votes and help the BJP, but if its candidate is weak, the battle would become primarily one between the Congress and the BJP. “We made a mistake last time by fielding a weak candidate against Tharoor, which led to the rise of BJP’s votes. This time, we don’t want to make the same mistake. We shall have a strong candidate," senior Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Binoy Viswam said. Last week’s CPI meet could, however, not decide on the candidate.

When this correspondent met Tharoor recently, he sounded confident, and said that he would campaign on the basis of the development work carried out in the last 10 years. Tharoor also downplayed the threat from other parties, and said that they might field a woman politician “in order to bring some kind of differentiability".

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