This is an exciting election in Trivandrum. There is an UNPRECEDENTED 6 way contest (which probably will be a national record) and each of the candidates is a ‘Big Gun’ in different ways and could poll upwards of 50,000 votes in a constituency where an average of 6-7 lakh votes are cast. But when we look back on 2009 Elections, I guess we’ll remember it by whether Shashi Tharoor won or lost. The situation is fast emerging and changing at a break-neck speed. Last week, Ajay and me were wondering about Tharoor’s margin, but this week it seems almost given that Tharoor may not make it after all. Without a miracle.

When one looks at Shashi Tharoor’s candidature, these are the questions that pop-up

Is he the better candidate?

Why should he win?

What do I need from my MP?

Can he win?

I have a feeling that this one is going to be long.

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I was in Picador the other day reading reviews of Naomi Klein’s new book. Curiously, a very balanced review in Washington Post was written by the man who could be our new MP. Just another reason to so adore this man who was one of my favourite authors of fiction and non-fiction when I was in school. Then again I have graduated from school and politics is another game altogether.

The Trivandrum Lok Sabha constituency has returned bigger guns to Lok Sabha (including M N Govindan Nair, PK Vasudevan Nair and K Karunakaran), but Shashi Tharoor has an international repute and a spectacular resume that comes a close second to our one time MP and Defense Minister who delivered the longest speech in the United Nations. Then again, resumes don’t explain the political aftermath (or the math) because Trivandrum defeated ONV Kurup when he contested against the ‘universally accepted useless’ A Charles.

Is Tharoor the better candidate?

I am not sure. But he is a different kind of candidate who comes very rarely. His personal achievements are things which an average Malayali politician cannot even start to imagine. But is he a better candidate compared to Ramachandran Nair who has spent the last thirty years involved in local issues and participated in people’s movements while personally achieving nothing. Tharoor’s intellect is more than enough to impress me as a netizen and a blogger, but Tharoor’s understanding of local issues I suspect may be influenced a little too far by the internet and the vocal upper middle-class opinion thats pasted around it.

This could be Tharoor’s advantage too. Ramachandran Nair, the CPI candidate, while outlining his vision, seemed to be tied down by the reality that development will only happen in incremental steps (he talked about setting up a night time resting place for homeless and vagabonds as his urgent priority). May be it is his years of bad experiences that prevents Ramachandran Nair from dreaming big, but Tharoor talked about Trivandrum’s growth into a metropolis of global reckoning. His detailed vision is here (I have seen this before, in several other places, Tharoor has compiled it well)

At a personal level, I felt that Tharoor is struggling to connect. But this could be an initial hiccup, and for all he is worth – thats ok. But lovability and approachability of the candidate is important for the real voter (often mentioned incorrectly as ‘average voter’). If by April 16th, the feeling is that ‘hey! I have touched that thing! It speaks in a curious tongue!’ it could mean a few ten thousand votes lost.

Why Tharoor should win?

If Tharoor is serious about this whole thing, if this is not a short-cut for him to the South Delhi Club or the Indian Cabinet, which I am severely suspicious it is, and if he wants to make Trivandrum home and see it move forward – Then I guess he should be given that chance. But a similar choice was made by Trivandrumites when K Karunakaran was returned to Lok Sabha. The argument was the development brought to Mala (his pet constituency), but K Karunakaran proved to be an apathetic representative. (Though Keralalites thanked Trivandrumites for sending Kannoth Karu far away from the state).

Tharoor can dream big, he can give the city a much needed marketing break, doors that will remain closed to Ramachandran Nair or P K Krishnadas will be open to Tharoor. In simpler terms Tharoor can be a mascot, Tharoor can be an effective lobbyist, and Tharoor has the intellect to be bipartisan.

But the suspicion remains that if Tharoor makes it to the real game in Delhi, will he ever come back? May be its just the tiny insecurity of a small town blogger.

What do I need from my MP?

One rare occasion where I loved L K Advani was when he admonished a person in his electoral rally saying that he was running for Lok Sabha and not for local corporation, and it is not his duty to make sure that GandhiNagar had better roads and better sewage. There were other representatives who were responsible for that. A classic case which is often forgotten. An MP is not about Bijli, Sadak and Pani.

India has a Westminster form of Government where the expectation from an MP is that he legislates effectively and raises concerns at a national level about very important (only very important) issues from his constituency.

In that way Shashi Tharoor will be an effective contributor given his grasp of issues and exceptional diplomatic style. But I would also like to know his stands on Disinvestment, private sector reservation (Congress poll plank), Narendra Modi, India’s relationship with Iran, his stand on Palestine, his stand on Special Economic Zones, and most importantly I want to know if he will go on an indefinite hunger strike if the ASEAN trade pact, which will break the backbone of Kerala, goes through.

And then, the toughest of questions.

Can Shashi Tharoor lose?

Candidates are: Ramachandran Nair (CPI), Shashi Tharoor (Congress), PK Krishnadas (BJP – State President), Neelalohitadasan Nadar (BSP), Vijayan Thomas (Congress Rebel) and MP Gangadharan (NCP – former minister)

Trivandrum constituency is spread across 7 assembly divisions and is as Ajay pointed out, Kerala’s only constituency with a clearly urban bias. Yet another factor that favours Tharoor is the floating vote between the Left and Anti-Left divide which O Rajagopal of BJP used to capitalize on. These along with a very high probability of Congress returning to power and strong anti-incumbency in the state should have delivered Trivandrum in a platter to Tharoor. But things are not so rosy as it seems and this is why –

1. The anti-incumbency was expected to give a landslide to the UDF. But there is no wave on the surface, and anti-incumbency does not seem to be strong enough. There might be actually no landslide, and the CPM led front may romp home with something like 10-12 seats. Then again, even in 2001, there was supposedly no visibly strong anti-left wave, but UDF came home with 100 seats. Plus Lok Sabha elections has historically been a pro-Congress affair in the state.

2. Vijayan Thomas & V S Shivakumar factor: Vijayan Thomas (the Congress rebel) has created ripples within the Congress party’s electoral machine with his candidature. His money machine may not actually divide many Congress votes but it can dampen and slowdown Tharoor’s campaign. The Church which has its own flock in the coastal regions has not taken kindly to Vijayan Thomas being denied the Congress ticket.

V S Shivakumar, ex-MP and DCC president, can hurt Tharoor’s chances with his non-involvement (another ticket loser). He can also ruin Tharoor’s chances in his homeground and critical assembly segment of Neyyattinkara. This along with the perception that Tharoor is the High Command’s Candidate who landed here on a balloon, could keep the average congress worker off the campaign trail. If the campaign posters across the city are anything to go by, Tharoor trails Ramachandran Nair, Neelan and Krishnadas by a large extent.

3. Mayawati’s Neelan: BSP’s Neelalohitadasan Nadar could end up grabbing a sizable chunk of the Nadar-Dalit vote, a critical segment for the Congress. There is a strong undercurrent in favour of Neelan and with a six way split, he could even be a close third or even finish second. The rhetoric of Mayawati for PM (BSP’s national campaign was launched in Trivandrum), and Neelan for a plump Cabinet berth may sink well with the dalits, nadars and Muslims. The Kovalam belt can hurt the CPI, and Neelan’s impact on Kazhakuttam and Parassala could ruin the Congress.

4. The other ‘N’ and the ‘I’ group: While Neelan makes a considerable impact on the Nadar vote, BJPs PK Krishnadas and NCP’s M P Gangadharan could split the anti-left Nair vote. BJP has fielded its state president in this prestige fight and chances of RSS selling votes to Congress seems unlikely because of that. But at the same time, CPM’s new sleeping partner Maudhany could provoke a severe backlash amongst Nairs in favour of Tharoor and Krishnadas. Trivandrum is a K Karunakaran stronghold and a segment of the Nair vote has been with his group for long. The indifference of the ‘I’ group voter towards the so-called ‘Ommen Congress’ may end up helping MP Gangadharan, the NCP candidate. There is also a feeling that Muraleedharan is being victimised for a little too long. For Murali, Tharoor’s defeat will be a proving a point.

To sum it up, Tharoor’s campaign has not gathered steam, and the Congress party machinery seems to be failing him. But even at this juncture, Tharoor remains a front-runner and a candidate who holds some promise. There are people who vote based on a candidate’s qualities, people who vote for a candidate’s utility, people who vote for special interests, and those who vote for ideology. Whatever be their way of voting, I hope the voters in Trivandrum are given a chance to make an informed decision by the campaign teams. This election result will be a pointer towards which way we are headed.

Update 3/29:

Vijayan Thomas INC (Rebel) withdraws from contesting, decides to fully support Tharoor. Ramachandran Nair still leads Tharoor almost two to one in terms of campaign reach.

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Ramachandran Nair’s vision is here

New Pastoral letter read across Churches on Sunday calls for defeating atheists and people who promote atheism πŸ™‚ [Now that they were successful in making Hybi Eden candidate for Ernakulam]

Update 3/30:

The day’s ‘Samakalika Malayalam’ talks about a big split in the BJP vote in Trivandrum which could favour Tharoor, an understanding between K Karunakaran and the CPI to return Ramachandran Nair from Trivandrum and Karunakaran’s own Peethambara Kurup from Kollam, a heavy Janata Dal play to split left votes in Trivandrum to help Neelan which in turn could help Tharoor, and about a seemingly dangerous resentment among Congress workers towards Tharoor, which will help Nair. I wish I had attended the Permutations & Combinations lesson in School instead of cutting class and going for Mohanlal’s Ayal Kadhayezhuthukayanu πŸ™‚

Update 5/16:
Tharoor wins by a landslide. BJP is pushed to the 4th place with Neelan creating a record of sorts for the BSP by coming in 3rd.