In Nemom Assembly constituency, it’s a fight to the finish between UDF’s Muraleedharan and LDF’s Sivankutty

Nemom in Thiruvanathapuram district is considered by BJP as its fortress, but this time around, the party’s candidate may well be relegated to the third position

NH photo 
NH photo

Ashlin Mathew

Nemom Assembly constituency in Thiruvanathapuram district was not meant to see a high intensity contest. It was supposed to just be a tough fight between mostly the BJP and Left Democratic Front candidates as United Democratic Front has not fielded a strong candidate there since 2006, which was the last time UDF won the seat. In 2016, UDF had given the seat to an ally, Janata Dal (U).

The atmosphere changed once Congress fielded Vadakkara MP and former Kerala CM K Karunakaran’s son K Muraleedharan to take on the BJP as that was the only seat which the saffron party had won in 2016. BJP has fielded former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan and CPI(M) has fielded V Sivankutty.

BJP’s O Rajagopal is the current Nemom MLA and he had defeated CPI(M) candidate V Sivankutty in 2016 by a margin of 8,671 votes. In 2016, Rajagopal had got 47.5% of the polled votes while Sivankutty got 41.3%. JD(U)’s Surendran Pillai had secured only 9.7% of the votes.

Sivankutty had represented Nemom from 2011 to 2016 and he is also the former Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. Muraleedharan had defeated Rajagopal once in 2016 when he had contested from Vattiyoorkavu constituency in Thiruvanathapuram district.

“No one here talks about Kummanam anymore. Even O Rajagopal had mentioned that Kummanan is not his successor. O Rajagopal has acceptance beyond the BJP voters. But, Kummanam doesn’t. Now, the contest is between Muraleedharan and Sivankutty. Muraleedharan’s campaign is working well,” said Chandu, a waiter at a hotel in Pappanamcode, which falls within Nemom constituency.

“We know Muraleedharan will work for the constituency. He had done a lot of work of Vattiyoorkavu. He improved the roads and water issues there. Where ever he is elected from, he works hard,” underscored Chandu.

Nemom has seen a revival of Hinduism and BJP considers it their fortress with 35% of the Hindus in the constituency being Nairs, a dominant force in Kerala politics. The constituency, which has 1.92 lakh voters, has 67% Hindus. Ezhavas, belonging to Other Backward Classes, constitute 15% of the electorate. There are around 30,000 Nadars, an equal number of Muslims and very few Christians in the constituency.

In the local body elections in December, BJP won 14 out of 24 wards. BJP has been able to increase its presence in the constituency when it won a single seat in 2010 local body elections to 10 seats in 2015.

“O Rajagopal had stood for elections multiple times and he comes across as a sensible person. That is why he got a lot of Nair votes last election. Then UDF did not put a strong candidate. With Muraleedharan in the fray, he is likely to get a lot of Nair votes. Nairs are highly unlikely to vote for LDF. Muraleedharan will get the Muslims votes, some of the Nair and Nadar votes. The Nair votes will decide the winner and the Nairs consider him one of their own,” said Hari R, a professor at University College. The name has been changed to protect his identity.

The Nair Service Society had not extended support to Kummanam during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the society has always been critical of LDF.

An autorickshaw driver commented that Kummanam Rajasekharan has lost all respect by contesting this election. “BJP made Kummanam the Governor, which is higher than the Chief Minister. Then BJP made him contest the Lok Sabha polls. Now, he is contesting the Assembly election. Once he loses, will BJP make him contest the Municipal post?” asked B Vinod.

For Bindu, a homemaker, issues will take precedence. “Sabarimala doesn’t matter. I am an Ayyappa devotee, but I am not going to vote based on that. Kummanam was not to be seen during those protests and there was no need for it to become a controversy. I am worried about the increase in the prices of the LPG cylinder and fuel. If governments do not help us, how will we run our household? UDF has promised Rs 2,000 for housewives and they said they will give Rs 6,000 to every house. LDF said they would also give money to housewives, but they have not specified the amount,” pointed out Bindu.

“No one will forget the ruckus that Sivankutty created in the Assembly in 2015. He climbed tables to prevent then UDF’s Finance Minister KM Mani from presenting the budget as he was accused in a bar bribery scandal. Now, KM Mani’s Kerala Congress(M) has joined hands with LDF,” said V Jayaraj, a 60-year-old, who was on his way home after buying groceries.

But Narayanan, a tea shop owner in Vellayani, believes LDF has done good work in the constituency. “I agree BJP’s O Rajagopal represented Nemom, but it was under the LDF government. The government hospitals here have become better, and the water supply has improved. During the lockdown, we survived due to the monthly kit that the government gave us,” said Narayanan.

On the ground, it is easier to spot campaign vehicles of Sivankutty and Muraleedharan than that of Kummanam. It will be a fight to the end. “BJP will come only third. This is not a Hindutva bastion just because Rajagopal won once. He won only because there was no strong UDF candidate. Many people who will not vote for the Left did not have anyone else to vote for,” explained Sheeja, a teacher at a government school.

There were complaints that the UDF’s team had not reached all the 181 booths in constituency, but Muraleedharan said that it was only after he had reached that the party workers had become energised. “In around five wards and booths, there have been issues. In Nemom there are 181 booths, of which 170 booths are active. Earlier, none of the booths were active. Issues will be smoothened soon,” said Muraleedharan.

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