Ground Report | Bar bribery row fades, Sabarimala resonates as Babu vs Swaraj 2.0 plays out in Tripunithura

M Swaraj and K Babu
M Swaraj and K Babu. Illustration: Manorama

Tripunithura is nearly 100 kilometers from Sabarimala. And the presiding deity in Tripunithura's iconic Poornathrayeesa temple is Lord Vishnu, not Lord Ayyappa.

But Sabarimala and Lord Ayyappa are increasingly being discussed in the Tripunithura constituency, where the CPM's incumbent MLA M Swaraj is taking on Congress veteran K Babu for the second time in a row. Babu, who was the Excise Minister in the UDF government led by Ommen Chandy, tasted defeat in 2016 against Swaraj.

The bar bribery allegation against Babu was at its peak then.

Babu recently reportedly got a clean chit in the case from the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. Swaraj terms it “a lie”. For Babu, whose image got tainted following the bribery charges, this is a prestige battle to wrest the Tripunithura seat from Swaraj.

He won the first round of the battle when he was given the seat despite stiff resistance from within his party.

Now, he will have to play out all his cards. Sabarimala is the one card the UDF is doling out in Tripunithura at the moment.

Swaraj & Lord Ayyappa's 'wedding'

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is raking up the Sabarimala issue as a major poll plank this time. In Tripunithura, the UDF is finding a fertile ground for this, thanks to a speech made by Swaraj two years ago. In the speech, Swaraj, known for his sharp oratory skills, used his power of imagination and sarcasm to find a solution to the Sabarimala issue.

He said all women can enter the Sabarimala temple, as the Supreme Court verdict allowed, because Lord Ayyappa was no longer a celibate as he married Goddess Malikappuram during the floods of 2018, when pilgrims could not visit the hill shrine as the Pamba overflowed.

M Swaraj
M Swaraj. File photo: Manorama

He was alluding to the belief is that Lord Ayyappa is an eternal celibate and he has promised to marry Malikappuram the year no first-time pilgrim (kanni swami) visits the temple.

Swaraj wanted to give a rational reason to the faithful to comply with the Supreme Court verdict, which his government was keen to implement.

However, his theory did not go well the believers. Instead, it ended up offending them and that is one reason why the UDF is trumpeting the video, again and again. Banking on sensibilities

The deposit money for Babu to contest the polls was given by former Sabarimala chief priest Ezhikode Sasidharan at a campaign rally. Sasidharan said he was doing it as he wants to see Swaraj defeated. Babu pins his hopes on the votes that went to the BJP last time. “This time the people of Tripunithura want to defeat the incumbent MLA at any cost. The BJP will not poll as many votes as they got last time. People don't want to ensure the CPM's victory by voting for the BJP,” he told Onmanorama.

Former Sabarimala chief priest Ezhikode Sasidharan handing over the deposit money for K Babu to contest the polls at a campaign rally in Tripunithura.
Former Sabarimala chief priest Ezhikode Sasidharan handing over the deposit money for K Babu to contest the polls at a campaign rally in Tripunithura.

Development card

Swaraj is seeking votes projecting the development projects he had initiated in the constituency.

Swaraj said the LDF government has initiated development projects worth Rs 2,600 crore in Tripunithura constituency.

“The people of Tripunithura had been under a siege. There were toll booths across the constituency. We shut down and sealed all of them. There began the development projects for Tripunithura,”he said.

The projects worth Rs 2,600 crore include finished ones as well as ongoing ones, he said. Some are in the initial phase too. He mentioned projects like the biggest Ayurveda research centres in Asia at Tripunithura, the Kundannoor flyover and potable water projects in Tripunithura and Maradu municipalities. Babu said the Rs 2,600-crore projects were only on paper.

Bar bribery

Babu and the UDF are upbeat about the reports that the Vigilance gave a clean chit to the former excise minister in a Rs 100-crore bribery allegation.

In fact, the reports helped Babu get a chance to contest the seat once again. The dispute over the Tripunithura seat had even delayed the announcement of the Congress's candidates list. Swaraj said the Vigilance has not given any such clean chit and the media reports were fabricated.

K Babu
K Babu. File photo: Manroama

Babu rubbished the allegation saying, “the MLA can check with the court.”Whether there is a clean chit or not, the bar case is not being discussed much this time in Tripunithua.

Raising the issue could even backfire the LDF as the Kerala Congress (M), the party of the late K M Mani, who was also accused in the bribery scam, is now a trusted ally of the Left front.

BJP's choice

The BJP has fielded former PSC chairman and noted academician Dr K S Radhakrishnan in Tripunithura this time.

Last time, another academician Thuravoor Viswambharan had polled 29,843 votes. Swaraj got 62,697 votes while Babu came second with 58,230. Swaraj won by a margin of 4,467 votes.

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