National

Nemom – once again in the eye of the storm

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on March 25, 2021

Kummanam Rajasekharan   -  File photo

Tucked away just to the south of the Kerala Capital, the Nemom constituency has acquired a large-than-life electoral appeal across the State and beyond for more reasons than just an epochal statement from Kummanam Rajasekharan, BJP candidate and former Mizoram Governor, who referred to it as ‘Kerala’s Gujarat’.

Nemom is the party’s lone (and first ever) seat in the 140-strong State Assembly, which its senior-most leader O Rajagopal won in 2016. The nonagenarian has opted out of the fray, and the party didn’t have to look far beyond its ‘surest next bet’, Kummanam Rajasekharan, as a replacement this time round.

Enduring party fortress

And the 68-year-old Rajasekharan made no mincemeat of his intention as early as in January by comparing Nemom as a party fortress as strong and enduring asGujarat, which it rules with a brute majority. This was much before the line-up of other rival candidates had become clear.

The ‘likening’ of Nemom with Gujarat and ‘hypothesis’ that the BJP might use it as a ‘laboratory’ to test the Hindutva experiment has only made the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to play it cards well in a contest for retribution and prestige.

“I came here to win. I will stop the BJP on its tracks not just in Nemom, but also in the whole State,” says Congress candidate K Muraleedharan, son of former chief minister K Karunakaran, and a sitting MP from Vadakara, with a track record as a giant killer whenever the party has roped in him and demanded no less.

An exemption was made for the 64-year-old by bypassing the Congress convention of not fielding any sitting MP in the Assembly election. His father had represented the seat in 1982, followed by a roller-coaster ride for both the UDF and the LDF ever since, until the BJP sprang up from nowhere to trip it.

The LDF has fielded CPI(M) party strongman V Sivankutty (66), who represented the seat in 2011 before losing it to BJP’s Rajagopal in 2016 by 8,671 votes. Critics say the latter prevailed not so much because of party votes as by own personal appeal as also ‘sympathy votes’ as a loser in two by-polls and three Assembly elections earlier.

Nemom has a voter base of more than 1.92 lakh, a majority of them upper-caste Hindus. It also has 30,000-odd Muslim votes and an equal number of Nadar votes. And, this is precisely why the CPI(M), the Congress and the BJP have all taken care to field upper-caste Hindu Nair candidates from here.

Upper-caste Hindu votes

Nemom’s track record from 2001 shows its shifting allegiance to coalitions. In 2001 and 2006, N Sakthan of the Congress had won it for the UDF before the delimitation exercise intervened. In 2001, the BJP had amassed as many as 16,872 votes here, but in 2006, this was reduced to a mere 6,705.

In 2011, V Sivankutty salvaged Nemom, a seat the CPI(M) had held last in 1996, by winning 42.99 per cent of the votes. He defeated BJP’s Rajagopal who had garnered 37.49 per cent votes. UDF compromise candidate Charupara Ravi (representing a constituent), could manage only 17.38 per cent of the polled votes.

The 2016 Assembly polls was an eye-opener for the UDF when its apparent ‘lazy approach towards the constituency by persisting with a candidate from a constituent party and trading of votes with the BJP for gains elsewhere’ as alleged by the losing candidate, led to a precipitous fall in vote share to 9.7 per cent.

 

Alleged trading of votes

Surendran Pillai, the losing candidate, alleged recently that there was vote trading between the Congress and the BJP in 2016. “That’s why the UDF candidate ended up getting only 13,800 votes in Nemom in that election. The BJP made its way to the top of the heap by building on Congress votes only,” Pillai said.

The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee had conducted an inquiry into the significant erosion in votes in Nemom in that election. The inquiry committee report had pointed to grave lapses on the part of five party leaders in that constituency. But the party had failed to initiate any action against these leaders.

“It’s been pattern with the UDF to gift this constituency to one of its constituents and actively engage in vote trading. In return, the Congress would make benefits in other seats. But the present candidate K Muraleedharan is a strong personality and I hope he knows all these games Congress indulges in.”

He cautioned Muraleedharan against foul play by saboteurs from his own party based in Nemom. “Especially when it is a triangular contest, as is the case in 2021, it could go to benefit the LDF candidate,” said Surendan Pillai. And V Sivankutty of the LDF is no mean candidate himself, he added.

Allegations of vote trading by both the rival fronts with the BJP in the centre have resonated, with the electorate in the State unlike in the recent past, thanks to some big voices leading the charge. The immediate trigger was disclosures made by RSS ideologue R Balashankar against the BJP-NDA.

And Nemom figures prominently in the controversy from the 2016 elections. The Congress has made a break with what Surendran Pillai describes as a ‘deplorable past’ by taking the bull by its horns and fielding K Muralreedharan, its strongest possible candidate in the constituency.

The BJP-NDA will settle for nothing less than a victory to retain its seat and a parade it as a trophy while the CPI(M) has vowed to reclaim it which its present candidate had lost narrowly to the BJP in 2016. This is what makes it an intense three-cornered contest, which could go any which way when the results are out.

Published on March 25, 2021

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