Pannyan Raveendran, Shashi Tharoor, Rajeev Chandrasekhar
File photo: Illustration/Onmanorama

Know your candidate: When Tharoor takes on tycoon in Thiruvananthapuram

Onmanorama's Know Your Candidate (KYC) captures the changing trends in a constituency, the pulse of the voters from the ground and gauges candidates' chances.

Shashi Tharoor
Before the start of the campaign, it was felt that two factors could sabotage the three-time MP's title defence.
One, Shashi Tharoor's perceived pro-Adani stand during the 140-day anti-port agitation in 2022. This had deeply hurt the Latin community in Thiruvananthapuram that had overwhelmingly voted in his favour in the last three elections.

Two, the terrorist tag he attached to Hamas during the Palestine solidarity meeting organised by the Muslim League in Kozhikode on October 26 last year. The Muslim community was so offended that Tharoor's name was struck off the list of speakers of Palestine solidarity meetings planned in his constituency.
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Both these worries now look a bit overstated. The Latin community wants the BJP government removed and, for this, Tharoor looks the automatic choice. The Muslim community, too, seems assuaged. Many prominent Muslim personalities Omanorama talked to said he was one of the first national leaders to have firmly opposed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Parliament.

However, it is a third factor that could frustrate Tharoor. Performance. "What has this man done for Thiruvananthapuram in the last 15 years" is the refrain of both his chief opponents, especially the BJP. His BJP rival, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has adopted a campaign slogan that is intended to dramatise Tharoor's alleged non-performance: ‘Ini Kaaryam Nadakkum’ (Now things will get done).

It is only natural that Tharoor, like any premium sedan parked for too long in a particular spot, would be sullied by the bird droppings and dust of prolonged exposure. Problem is, the constituency does not see him make an effort to keep his legacy clean. In fact, he has brought out a 68-page performance report and regularly rebuts charges on X (Twitter). But from the voices on the ground, it looks like Tharoor’s side of the story has not acquired the necessary momentum.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar
He did not just have the slogan 'Ini Kaaryam Nadakkum' on his campaign posters. He gave a demonstration of it, too.
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The moment he landed in Thiruvananthapuram, Rajeev went straight to its southernmost tip, to Pozhiyoor where sea erosion is at its worst. He heard the people out and, in two days, two senior scientists from the Central Fisheries Ministry visited Pozhiyoor and promised immediate action. He even showcased a letter from the office of the union Minister of Fisheries that promised solutions.

Tharoor took to X and explained why this would not bring any relief. Later, the MP told the media that he had also written to three central ministries seeking assistance for shore protection. The second part became campaign fodder for Rajeev.

"I was trying to find solutions and here we have a person who was an MP for 15 years saying that he too had written a letter. Is it by writing letters that we change the lives of people." This is a remark Rajeev repeatedly makes during his campaign and is one that never fails to tickle his audience.

His accented vocabulary-poor Malayalam makes him sound earnest, like he is this sincere boy who has arrived from a different place and is trying hard to communicate. It is this broken but endearing Malayalam he uses to sell his 'politics of performance' message.

And he guards this message with ferocity. Anything that can possibly contaminate the message is forbidden. This reporter was snubbed for raising two issues.

One, do you regret suggesting that a particular community was behind the Kalamassery bomb blasts? "Why do you want to ask this question now? I have said many things in the last 18 years. I don't want to be drawn into nonsensical discussions."

Two, doesn't electoral bond information suggest the BJP's quid pro quo deals with shady companies? "Switch off your mobile".

Pannyan Raveendran
Shashi Tharoor has his 25 books and oratory skills. Rajeev Chandrasekhar has his business triumphs. And for long-haired Pannyan, there is a tale straight out of the Book of Political Morals.

This story heard at many street-side LDF meetings during this campaign is said to be real. 'Pannyan was walking through a crowded street in Kannur. It is too late when he realises his wallet has been stolen. Pannyan panicks. The wallet had a diary that had all the numbers he wanted. A week later, it was delivered to him by post. The diary, thankfully, was in the wallet. Inside the diary he found a letter. He opened it, and there was a one-line stinker. "You @#$%&!, aren't you ashamed to walk around with two rupees?" On top of the letter was pinned a five-rupee note.'

This story is used to position Pannyan as the altruistic alternative to two jet-setting rivals. But Pannyan’s selfless leader image has its limitations.

Take for instance, a Ramzan event organised by a local jama-ath in Nemom area. The function had started when Pannyan walked in. The audience turned to look at him. He was recognised. He gave his speech, distributed some Ramzan kits, and was ushered out. He waved at the audience and they smiled at him politely.

A while later, Tharoor walked in. Suddenly, it was like he had brought the entire locality into the hall. People who were standing outside had rushed in. There were no more vacant seats, and people were found standing on the sides straining to get a glimpse. In other public spaces, too, the difference in response is stark. People smile and shake hands with Pannyan but, like with Tharoor, they don’t behave like they are in the company of a superstar.

Pannyan does not look like a candidate who can cause a serious split in the anti-BJP votes.

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