POLITICS

Lok Sabha 2019: State BJP leaders, union minister fight for Sabarimala seat in Kerala

Sabarimala, the temple town in Pathanamthitta constituency where BJP had unleashed violence in the name of religion is where the party hopes to secure a win

Lok Sabha 2019: State BJP leaders, union minister fight for Sabarimala seat in Kerala

Ashlin Mathew

Sabarimala, the temple town in Pathanamthitta constituency where BJP had unleashed violence in the name of religion, is where the party hopes to secure a win. But, it is also the seat from where most of the party members want to contest from. This has led to a lot of infighting and back-stabbing within the party for the seat and as a result the announcement has been delayed.

The state capital Thiruvananthapuram was the most sought-after seat, but with the resignation of former state BJP chief Kummanam Rajasekharan as the Mizoram Governor, that hope was crushed. Then all top BJP leaders decided they wanted to stand from Pathanamthitta.

There are five who want to contest from this Lok Sabha seat. hose in the fray were BJP's state general secretary K Surendran, BJP’s 2014 Pathanamthitta candidate MT Ramesh and BJP National Executive member Shobha Surendran. All these three have allegedly informed the national leadership that if they weren’t granted the seat of their choice, they would not contest. But, sources have said that Shobha Surendran is likely to contest from Attingal in the state. Now, state president PS Sreedharan Pillai has emerged the front-runner for Pathanamthitta, but Union minister of Tourism and Rajya Sabha MP Alphons Kannanthanam wants to contest from this seat.

But, news from the ground states is that all these five aspirants are likely to lose.

According to sources, Pillai has informed the national leadership that he has the support of the Malankara Orthodox Church. He is likely to have conveyed that if any other candidate were to contest from Pathanamthitta, then the support could be withdrawn.

He has highlighted to the national leadership that he was responsible for raising the issue of Sabarimala on October 2, even before any other state BJP leader had decided to. He has claimed that he is the reason that Sabarimala protest began to be associated with BJP, but had decided to move away from the protest when it had turned violent on ground.

Kannanthanam has been insisting that he would like to contest from Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha seat as his hometown in Kerala, Manimala, is closer to Pathanamthitta. Manimala is a part of Kottayam district, but is far away from the district centre. The union minister is said have studied in a school in Pathanamthitta district.

This is because of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala, BJP hopes to focus on seven constituencies, including Thiruvananthapuram, Attingal, Thrissur and Pathanamitta, said state BJP president Pillai. “In 2014, we had increased our vote percentage to 15% in Kerala and this year, we hope to increase it to 20-25%,” contends Pillai.

The residents of Pathanamthitta are opposed to Kannanthanam because he had quit the IAS and had contested the state election in 2011 as an independent candidate-supported by LDF from Kanjirapally in Kottayam. After, having won the election, he had expected the LDF to give him ministerial berth, but they hadn’t. Then in 2017, switched sides to join BJP when they promised him the Tourism Ministry. What the locals haven’t forgotten is that when Kerala was reeling under floods in August 2018, he had turned down the demand of state leaders to declare it as a ‘national calamity’.

Both Pillai and Surendran are outsiders and unlikely to gather much steam in the Nasrani Christian-dominated Pathanamthitta district.

Spread over two districts, the Pathanamthitta constituency consists of Poonjar and Kanjirappally in Kottayam and Thiruvalla, Adoor, Aranmula, Konni and Ranni in Pathanamthitta. In both 2009 and 2014, UDF candidate Anto Antony had won, with over 1 lakh votes in 2009 and 56,191 in 2014. Anto Antony, who is from Poonjar in Kottayam district, contested from there in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and was defeated.

The LDF candidates—K Anandagopan in 2009 and Peelipose Thomas in 2014—had failed to register a win. In 2014, BJP’s MT Ramesh had secured 1,38,954 votes (15.98%).

Antony, who is a part of the former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy’s faction in the state, will be contesting from Pathanamthitta despite local voters being discontent because he hasn’t undertaken enough developmental works in the district. Antony, whose family is Catholic, is also known to be close to the Pentecostal church in Kerala and that is also a source of disgruntlement amongst them.

The LDF’s Pathanamthitta candidate Veena George is the sitting MLA from Aranmula in the same district. Though she is from Malankara Orthodox Church and her husband ‘Georgie’ was the firmer church secretary, she has rubbed many the wrong way.

As a result, UDF seems to have an upper hand in Pathanamthitta.

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