Nemom, Kerala’s sole BJP Assembly seat, to see a fierce fight

While the Congress is intent on taking back the Nemom assembly seat, the BJP has to win this seat, which has become a matter of prestige since it was the first seat that the saffron party bagged -in Kerala

K Muraleedharan, V Sivankutty and Kummanam Rajasekharan: The fight for the prestigious Nemom Assembly constituency promises to be a three-way battle royale

Nemom, a suburb situated 12 km from Thiruvananthapuram, catapulted into the limelight when it helped the saffron party, the BJP, in the 2016 Assembly elections to win their first and lone seat in Kerala. Senior BJP leader O Rajagopal had created history in that election by becoming the first party candidate to win a seat in the state from this constituency, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts.

Until then Kerala was “defying the mood of the country”, and seemed indifferent to the Modi wave and keeping the saffron party at arm’s length.

As Kerala readies to go to the polls next month, the Nemom assembly constituency has become the cynosure of all eyes once again. The LDF and the UDF, who are gearing up to give BJP a tough fight in this elections, are going the full hog to field exceptionally strong candidates at Nemom.

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The Congress intent on ‘wresting back the seat from the BJP, has fielded the firebrand, sitting MP K. Muraleedharan. The son of former Kerala CM, the late K Karunakaran, Muraleedharan was the former Kerala Congress president as well. The CPI(M) has put up V Sivankutty, who is a veteran in the area, having won from Nemom in 2011.

With the stakes running high for the BJP, which has now turned into a prestige seat, the party has brought in former Mizoram governor and state BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan, who had contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from here, to fight this three-way ‘battle royale’ in this constituency.

Kummanam Rajasekharan, a hardline Hindutva leader, reportedly with a spotless reputation, was brought in as the state BJP president, from 2015 to 2018 by the RSS to aid in turning this red bastion into saffron.

Nemom is situated in Thiruvananthapuram district, with a portion of the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation falling within the constituency.

Once this constituency was represented by former chief minister K Karunakaran, and it had comfortably sent both LDF and UDF candidates to the Assembly until 2011. But, the Congress’ ham-handed move to give the constituency to its minor ally Janata Dal (U) proved to be its undoing.

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For the JD(U) V Surendran Pillai managed to bag only 9.7% votes in the 2016 elections making way for the BJP to emerge as a force to reckon with by tapping into the pro-Hindutva votes. In that election, Rajagopal had bagged 47.46% of the polled votes, while his nearest rival, CPM’s V Sivankutty got 41.39% of the votes.

Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Nemom constituency was tilted towards the BJP. Though Congress leader Shashi Tharoor ultimately won from Thiruvananthapuram, the BJP candidate, Kummanam Rajasekharan had registered a lead of 12,041 votes over Tharoor in the Nemom Assembly segment falling under the constituency,.

According to political analysts, Thiruvananthapuram has always had a soft corner for soft Hindutva because of historical rather than religious reasons. King Marthanda Varma, who had ruled over the Travancore kingdom and had defeated the Dutch Navy in the Battle of Colachel in 1741, had built his kingdom around the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. The Old Fort area surrounding the temple has been the RSS bastion for decades in Kerala.

Besides a Tamil-and Tulu-speaking Brahmin population (who were brought in by the kings for the Padmanabha Swamy temple) and the Nair Brigade (the native infantry that drew its cadre from the eponymous upper-caste community), the RSS reportedly gained traction in Thiruvananthapuram, after the Chala Market riots in the 1980s that began as a clash between Hindu and Muslim traders. However, the BJP has not won any of the assembly constituencies in Kerala’s capital constituency, except the Nemom assembly constituency.

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In the recent civic body elections as well, the BJP won 14 of the 23 divisions of Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation falling under the Nemom constituency. The LDF took the remaining nine. Over the years, the BJP has steadily made inroads into the Nemom assembly constituency at the cost of the Congress, said an Indian Express report.

In the 2001 and 2006 Assembly polls, senior Congress leader N Sakthan had won from the Nemom Assembly constituency before a delimitation exercise. In 2001, the BJP got 16,872 votes here, and in 2006, a mere 6,705 votes. But in 2011, they swung back when O Rajagopal managed to garner 37.49 % of the votes, while the winning CPM candidate got  a 42.99% share of the votes. In the 2016 Assembly polls, the UDF vote share fell further to 9.7%, while the CPM more or less retained its votes.

A three-way battle that promises to be a close one

Media reports are dubbing this battle for the Nemom constituency in this 2021 Assembly elections as a battle royale , a tough triangular fight between three candidates, who are household names with a mass base.

Nemom’s has a voter base of 1.92 lakh, a majority are upper-caste Hindus. The constituency also has 30,000-odd Muslim votes and an equal number of Nadar votes. The CPM, Congress and BJP have all fielded candidates, who are upper-caste Hindu Nairs. The Congress hopes to get these community votes, apart from the backing of Muslims and Nadars. The highly combative Muraleedharan had contested the 2016 state polls from the nearby Vattiyoorkavu constituency, where he had defeated Kummanam Rajasekharan comfortably.

After his candidature was announced, Muraleedharan told journalists that since Congress has taken up the Nemom challenge, its “ripple effect” will be felt across Kerala. “Because it establishes that in Kerala too the party that pushes back against the communalism of BJP is the Congress,” he said. Meanwhile, Rajasekharan, who has a clean political image is also banking on the fact that Nemom constituency has derived the maximum benefit out of the various schemes piloted by the Narendra Modi government.