Even if the BJP doesn’t win a seat in Kerala, the outcome will get decided by who lost more votes to it. This is an electoral verisimilitude that voters in Attingal Lok Sabha constituency lying next door to Thiruvananthapuram will put to test this time round after the party announced its arrival in style here in 2019.

Right-leaning Swarajya magazine sought to project in a recent analysis that the party may up come second this time in Attingal. It would be prudent to try out newer faces in constituencies where the BJP has no real prospects, it said. In 2019, a ‘scorched earth’ campaign by firebrand Sobha Surendran, helped in small measure by the Sabarimala wave, saw the party substantially raise vote share but end up only as a third behind UDF and LDF.

Inexplicable move

Surendran has been shifted from here to Alappuzha this time — a move that party insiders say is as inexplicable as it is egregious — to bring V Muraleedharan, Rajya Sabha member and Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs and two-time President of Kerala BJP. He is hardly new to the voters here, having fought and lost the 2016 Assembly elections from nearby Kazhakkoottam.

Attingal houses five Assembly constituencies (two of them reserved) along the breadth of Thiruvananthapuram district, from the hills of the interior East and adjoining plains and extending to the coastal West. Workers in the plantations and coir and fish sectors teem in the fringes throwing livelihood issues to the fore in the electoral scheme of things. A traditional Left seat, Attingal is currently represented by Adoor Prakash of the Congress-led UDF.

Traditional Left stronghold

Known as Chirayinkil prior to 2008, it has also elected Congress leaders including Vayalar Ravi (1971, 1977), Thalekkunnil Basheer (1984, 1989) and AA Raheem (1980). Religious and caste equations may come into play with Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP, Ezhava) and the Nair Service Society (NSS, Nair) calling the shots in the constituency. Minorities are present in considerable numbers in pockets, too.

Mixed vibes

Vibes from on ground are mixed, with exuberant CPI(M) cadres meeting their match in circumspect but pragmatic BJP karyakarthas. Ani, CITU worker and member of a branch committee, was enjoying a morning cup of tea along with a few fraternal CPI(M) cadre on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram when businessline caught up with him. He said candidate V Joy has just completed a second round of campaigning and is drawing huge crowds. The merciless April sun did not prevent him from staging a road show around noon along with scores of activists, said Aji, branch secretary.

A drive into the interior past a few cut-outs, posters, banners and wall writings led one to a BJP stronghold at Anad, 36 km away on Thenmala Road where Anilkumar PV aka Sunil Upasana, Vice-President of BJP area committee was waiting. He said karyakarthas returning from house visits are able to get positive vibes. Some of the traditional CPI(M) or Congress voters are willing to ‘think differently’ but not so the young generation, he said.

Thinking differently

Upasana cited an experience from an early morning call on a housewife who welcomed them. The idea of the aged couple here is not to shift loyalty from Congress entirely but vote BJP secretly this time. “We take such instances as an intent to vote for Muraliyettan (candidate Muraleedharan). We expect him to come a close second, if not win outright,” he said echoing the Swarajya narrative. “This time we are asking votes in Modi’s name and for Bharat. We talk to Kisan Samman Nidhi beneficiaries and request a vote for Modi.”

In a typical Kerala village where tea shops double up as informal gathering spots, one ran into a young and effusive Prasad busy preparing tea at his wayside stall in Vazhayila in the suburbs. He said locals patronise his spartan set-up where they exchange news, opinions, and political gossip. His overwhelming sense is that the CPI(M) is going to win big this time. There is no belittling the presence of the sitting MP who defeated A Sampath of the CPI(M) by a margin of 39,000-plus votes last time. But cadres have been toiling hard to win back the seat through the fresh face V Joy, currently MLA of Varkala and well-connected at the grassroots.