Shashi Tharoor's Thiruvananthapuram Winning Streak In BJP's Crosshair

Speaking to NDTV this week, Shashi Tharoor said the BJP was welcome to open a bank account in the state, but they should not expect any other kind of account opening.

Shashi Tharoor's Thiruvananthapuram Winning Streak In BJP's Crosshair

Former Union Minister and Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat Shashi Tharoor (File).

New Delhi:

The Congress' Shashi Tharoor is bidding for a four-peat of wins from Thiruvananthapuram, but arguably faces his toughest test yet in Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Mr Tharoor queued up at a polling booth in the city to cast his vote this morning. A video shared by news agency ANI showed the Congress leader standing in line and chatting with other voters. 

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

The senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, meanwhile, must shake off controversy over his poll affidavit - which said his taxable income for FY2021/22 was Rs 680, compared to Rs 17.5 lakh for FY20 - to win in a state that tends to look unfavourably on the BJP's politics.

Mr Chandrasekhar - who is registered to vote in Bengaluru - has said he expects "the politics of performance" to give him an edge, and that Thiruvananthapuram's voters will recognise the Congress and Shashi Tharoor had done nothing over the past 15 years. "People are sensible... they know."

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

With a hat-trick of wins behind him, Mr Tharoor has exuded confidence.

Speaking to NDTV this week, he said the BJP was welcome to open a bank account in the state, but they should not expect any other kind, meaning they will not win any seats.

In 2019 Mr Tharoor, also an ex-Union Minister, scored his biggest win yet, polling over four lakh votes and more than 40 per cent of the vote share. He beat Kummanam Rajasekharan by nearly one lakh votes. The Communist Party of India's C Divakaran was a distant third.

The win underlined Mr Tharoor's hold; he won six of the seven Assembly segments in the seat, losing only Nemom by less than 12,000 votes. This time the CPI - which is part of the ruling Left Democratic Front - has turned to 78-year-old veteran Pannyan Raveendran.

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

That the CPI chose to field a candidate raised eyebrows because the party is, on paper, part of the Congress-led INDIA opposition bloc.

The Congress has played down the import of this contest. Party comms boss Jairam Ramesh emphasised that all Left parties remain a part of the group but "this does not preclude group partners from contesting against each other in different states, especially in Kerala".

The choice of Mr Raveendran is to make a point to voters; the Left leader is quite unlike his rivals, who share similarities despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

READ | "Irony Died When...": Minister's Jibe At Shashi Tharoor In Affidavit Row

Mr Tharoor and Mr Chandrasekhar are both highly educated professionals who turned to politics after careers in the diplomatic service and the IT industry.

Mr Raveendran, meanwhile, dropped out of middle school, has been a member of the party since his teen years, and has a strong distaste for the trappings of a politician's life.

Perhaps as significantly, Mr Raveendran is a former MP from Thiruvananthapuram.

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

He won the seat in 2005 - after the party's PK Vasudevan Nair, the sitting MP and a former Chief Minister died. And he did so by polling over 50 per cent of the votes. He chose not to defend his seat in the next full election - 2009 - when Mr Tharoor claimed his first win.

Mr Raveendran's campaign, at least on a national level, has flown under the radar, particularly after the Congress and BJP began sparring over Mr Chandrasekhar's poll affidavit, which led to Mr Tharoor being sued for defamation and getting a "strict warning" from the election Commission.

READ | "Strict Warning" To Shashi Tharoor Over Remark On Union Minister

The Congress leader, though, is confident of a win.

Thiruvananthapuram isn't the only Kerala seat to feature an INDIA vs INDIA contest; in Wayanad the CPI has fielded Annie Raja against Mr Gandhi, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist), also an INDIA member, has nominated sitting Alappuzha MP AM Ariff against senior Congress leader KC Venugopal, who won this seat in 2014.

For the CPI, these seats are a litmus test. It has been leaking votes over the past few elections. In Thiruvananthapuram, for example, since polling over half of all votes in 2009, when Mr Raveendran won, the party came down to less than 30 per cent in 2019.

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

In Wayanad there was a big 13 per cent negative swing between 2014 and 2019.

In each case it has been the Congress and the BJP benefitting, and the latter party will hope the combination of its groundwork in the past few years and the fallout of the INDIA squabble will give it a boost to help win its first ever Lok Sabha seat from the state.

For 2024, the target of 'abki baar, 400 paar' will need the party to score seats in all states, even if it can count on a big chunk from its bastions in the Hindi heartland.

Kerala, and neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which has been almost as unfriendly to the party, together offer 59 Lok Sabha seats. In 2019 the BJP got only one of these. In 2014 it got zero.

NDTV is now available on WhatsApp channels. Click on the link to get all the latest updates from NDTV on your chat.