When the results for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections come in from May 23, the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala will closely watched. The Bharatiya Janata Party believes that its candidate Kummanam Rajasekahran could beat Shashi Tharoor of the Congress. Should that happen, the BJP will record its first Lok Sabha victory in the southern state.

The BJP is hoping that the anger against the Sabarimala verdict will help it win the Hindu vote. The Supreme Court in September had allowed the entry of women of menstruating age to the Ayyappan temple in Sabarimala, which had prompted huge protests from conversatives.

Rajasekharan was the former governor of Mizoram before resigning in March to contest the Lok Sabha elections. He was also the BJP’s state chief from 2015 to 2018.

Left Democratic Front candidate C Divakaran is also in the fray.

Sabarimala verdict

The Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of menstruating age to enter the Sabarimala temple snowballed into a massive issue in Kerala and became a poll plank for many candidates. Political leaders across parties had criticised the verdict, but the state Election Commission had banned leaders from bringing up the matter in campaigns.

Protests against the court verdict began in October and were organised by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, a coalition of Hindutva groups under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The protestors had blamed the Left government for “showing undue haste in implementing the verdict”.

Although the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP, had originally welcomed the verdict, it quickly changed its mind. The BJP had also issued a statement in support of the devotees and called for “protection of traditions”.

Shashi Tharoor had initially welcomed the court verdict, but later changed his position, claiming that the majority of Hindus in Kerala were against the ruling.

Tharoor had told The Economic Times that the BJP was communalising the polls by bringing up Sabarimala, “despite the fact that the Modi government failed to move a Bill or Ordinance or a review petition to undo the SC order, something I demanded in Parliament.”

Steady gains

In the 2014 elections, Thiruvananthapuram was the only constituency in Kerala where the BJP came in second. Going into the 2019 polls, the party forged alliances with the the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena and the Kerala Congress (Thomas). It is contesting 14 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats.

Tharoor, a former United Nations diplomat, first won the Thiruvananthapuram seat in 2009 by a margin of 99,998 votes. In the 2014 General Elections, Tharoor’s victory margin reduced to 15,470 votes and the BJP’s O Rajagopal came in second. The lower vote margin points to a tough fight for Tharoor this time.

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