With Kerala having voted today (23 April 2019), the big political question being asked is: will the BJP bag its first Lok Sabha seat from the state?
It’s been a heated battle in the last few months in and around Pathanamthitta, where the Sabarimala issue has taken centre stage. It threatens to influence the election outcome, even if we are not sure to what extent, with perhaps a swing in favour of the BJP.
K Surendran, the BJP candidate for Pathanamthitta, is said to be enjoying a tailwind as he has found his campaign propelled forward on the back of the Sabarimala row over Supreme Court allowing women of productive age to enter the Ayyappa shrine.
But he is up against two competitors, one from the Congress and the other from the CPI(M).
The Congress is fielding its two-time parliamentarian and winner in the 2009 and 2014 elections, Anto Antony Punnathaniyil. And the candidate leading CPI(M)’s charge is legislator and journalist Veena George, representing the LDF.
And this three-way battle is going to be hard to call one way or another with any degree of certainty as yet. But there are certain factors that we know are going to come into play.
What doesn’t help the Congress candidate, Antony, for example, is a possible anti-incumbency factor. Has he delivered enough over the last 10 years to be voted back in? That’s something that has to be seen. Some say he hasn’t done enough. And this view has been echoed even by LDF’s Ms George.
Now, while it might appear that Sabarimala is a decisive factor, George doesn’t believe that to be the case. She thinks development is key and has been happy to call out the Congress.
Then there are factors that could affect both the Congress and the left. For example, some people in Kerala felt short-changed during the rains and floods and the resulting loss of lives. They believe that both parties could have done a lot more for their constituents. This might just nudge people a little towards voting for the BJP.
Swarajya executive editor M R Subramani’s reporting from Pathanamthitta reveals that BJP’s Surendran is receiving quite the hero’s welcome when approaching people for votes in the constituency, where women voters outnumber men, and that’s a significant thing if Sabarimala is indeed swinging votes.
Many of you would recall the open display of anger by many of the devotees during protests that erupted against the state government when it sought to implement the Supreme Court order to allow entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.
Pathanamthitta was, in fact, the epicentre of these protests.
If you recall, Surendran was even put behind bars for 20 days over the protests. Don’t be surprised if many of the devotees vote for him purely out of sympathy and a feeling that he stood for their cause during a difficult time.
Then again, there are also people in Kerala who wouldn’t stand to see the BJP come to power there. These people, too, would make their presence felt and voices heard through their vote. And it’s not a section of the electorate you can ignore in Kerala.
Though it should be acknowledged that the BJP has covered lots of ground over the last 10 years in terms of its vote share in the state.
Well, it’s these potpourri of factors, each pulling us in one or the other direction, that makes the Kerala contest, especially the one at Pathanamthitta, extremely interesting.
The voters have spoken. And come 23 May, we’ll hear loud and clear what they have had to say.
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