Controversies and political developments that shaped 40-day political odyssey in Kerala

South First looks at the rearview mirror for a glimpse of some of the defining moments that happened over the past 40 days.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Apr 25, 2024 | 12:33 PMUpdatedApr 25, 2024 | 12:33 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally in Pathanamthitta. (X)

The high-decibel rallies and fervent political rhetoric ended in Kerala with the culmination of the public campaign on Wednesday, 25 April.

Candidates and their supporters were engaged in the silent campaign on Thursday, meeting voters personally and requesting support. With just hours remaining before the 26 April polls in Kerala’s 20 Lok Sabha constituencies, the political landscape stood charged with anticipation and speculation.

The state had been a theatre of relentless political maneuvering, punctuated by both momentous developments and gripping controversies, shaping the narrative of what promises to be a thrilling election, over the past 40 days.

South First looks at the rearview mirror for a glimpse of some of the defining moments that happened over the past 40 days, since the announcement of the schedule by the Election Commission of India on 16 March.

Also Read: Congress fumes after Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan recalls Rahul’s ‘old name’

A remark and a business deal

In the initial phase, a remark ignited a firestorm of debate. Behind it was LDF convener EP Jayarajan. His comment that the BJP has fielded good candidates in the state and that the fight would be between the LDF and BJP drew sharp rebukes from the Congress.

The UDF was quick to respond. It alleged that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan endorsed Jayarajan’s comments to please the BJP leadership, especially when investigations on Karvannur bank and Lavlin cases were in progress.

As days progressed, Leader of the Opposition VD Satheesan as well as the Congress leadership raised the business deal between Jayarajan and Thiruvananthapuram’s NDA candidate Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

The Congress was referring to the deal between Vaidekam Ayurvedic Treatment Centre in Kannur, where Jayarajan’s wife PK Indira and son Jaison hold shares, and Niraamaya Retreats, which operates several hospitality ventures in the country and is backed by a private equity firm, Jupiter Capital, founded by Chandrasekhar.

Vaidekam, in April 2023, handed over its operations to Niraamaya.

Also Read: NDA, LDF candidates in Thrissur face social media backlash

‘This Gopi is not that Gopi’

Thrissur’s NDA candidate Suresh Gopi found himself in the eye of a social media storm after Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Gopi’s son Raghu took to Facebook, saying a VIP had hinted at awarding the Padma Bhushan if his father blessed Suresh Gopi at their residence.

The revelation sparked discussions on social media platforms.

Raghu began his Facebook post — which he later deleted — alleging that some VIPs tried to influence his father in favour of Suresh Gopi. He then stated, “This Gopi is not that Gopi”.

Raghu then revealed that a prominent doctor contacted his father (Kalamandalam Gopi) over the phone and informed him that Suresh Gopi would visit him to seek his blessings. According to him, as his father objected, the doctor asked, “Asan, don’t you want Padma Bhushan?”

To this, Raghu said, Gopiasan responded: “I don’t want it that way.”

However, responding to Raghu’s post, Suresh Gopi told reporters then that neither he nor the party had asked anyone to call Gopiasan. “I am unaware of the revelations made in the post,” he added.

Later, Gopiasan put out a video message on social media, requesting voters to cast their votes for K Radhakrishnan, the LDF candidate in the Alathur Lok Sabha constituency.

Also Read: Tovino is brand ambassador for Election Commission’s SVEEP campaign

A pic that didn’t go well

Thrissur’s LDF candidate VS Sunil Kumar also courted controversy after he shared some photographs that showed him with actor Tovino Thomas during one of his campaign trails. He posted the photo with the caption that Tovino had wished him luck.

The LDF candidate later deleted the post captioned “Thrissur’s shining heroes’ as the actor said on X that it was against the law to use his photograph in the election campaign.

Tovino, who was the ambassador for the Election Commission’s SVEEP programme for Kerala, pointed out that “It is against the law to use my photo or a photo including me for any kind of election campaigning.”

“In case somebody is using it, I wish to clarify that it is without my knowledge or consent,” the actor further stated.

Also Read: Priyanka Gandhi slams Kerala CM for targeting Rahul

Abusive speech

CPI(M) leader and Udumbanchola MLA MM Mani’s remarks against UDF’s Idukki candidate and sitting MP Dean Kuriakose and Congress leader PJ Kurian sparked a row.

Mani alleged that Dean was busy visiting beauty parlors and seldom spent time reaching out to people in his constituency. He also called Dean a eunuch who was as good as dead.

Dean later responded, saying he couldn’t stoop to Mani’s level.

Too little, too late 

SDPI’s support to Congress and the grand old party’s indecisiveness in making a decision became a political weapon for the BJP. SDPI, affiliated to the now-banned PFI, announced its support to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on 1 April.

The party’s endorsement sparked intense discussions within Congress and the UDF. The BJP as well as the LDF alleged that Congress was taking support from extremist groups.

The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), after careful deliberation, decided to reject the SDPI support. Talking to the media then, VD Satheesan said that Congress and the UDF opposed communalism and that it did not matter whether it was by majority or minority communities.

Also Read: Rajeev Chandrasekhar says his income for 2021-2022 was ₹680

Income controversy

In the lead-up to the hotly contested election in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency, NDA candidate Rajeev Chandrasekhar found himself embroiled in a controversy over his reported income for the fiscal year 2021-22.

In his affidavit, Chandrasekhar stated that his total income, as shown in the Income Tax Return (ITRs), for the said fiscal was ₹680.

However, the contrast between his reported income for the previous and subsequent years fuelled the debate. With this, the constituency, witnessing a three-cornered fight, was abuzz with discussions surrounding Chandrasekhar’s financial disclosures.

The revelation kicked up a storm of speculation and raised many eyebrows across political circles in general and Congress in particular.

Following complaints, the Election Commission directed the Central Board of Direct Taxes to verify any mismatch in affidavit details submitted by the BJP candidate.

Also Read: Shashi Tharoor booked for ‘false campaign’ against Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Vadakara’s real teacher

Taking a jibe at Vadakara’s LDF candidate KK Shailaja, better known as Shailaja Teacher, UDF’s Shafi Parambil said at a campaign rally trail that Vadakara’s real teacher was Padminiyamma, mother of slain RMP leader TP Chandrasekharan.

Padminiyamma, who died in 2015, had served as a primary school teacher and retired from the Champad Upper Primary School in Thalassery.

Also Read: Vadakara promises a photo finish as ‘rock star’ takes on youthful exuberance

Bomb politics

An incident in which a bomb went off while being made, killing a 35-year-old man and seriously injuring three others in Panur, Kannur, put the CPI(M) leadership on the defensive.

The Congress and the BJP alleged that the blast was part of the CPI(M)’s larger plan to jeopardize the elections. The CPI(M) maintained that party workers were not involved in the blast.

According to CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan, the Opposition parties were deliberately spreading propaganda that those who were injured in the blast were CPI(M) workers and they were trying to mislead the public.

Cyberattack and defamatory notices

Then came the vicious cyberattack against Shailaja. She was attacked in cyberspace with morphed photos and videos and edited conversations which were often derogatory.

According to CPI(M), a dedicated team with the knowledge of Shafi Parambil was responsible. The Left party approached the Election Commission of India as well as the State Police Chief for further action.

Though a couple of arrests were made, the controversy has not settled down. Meanwhile, Parambil responded with a defamatory notice against Shailaja, alleging that his name was dragged into the controversy without any evidence.

Also Read: A political thriller unfolds in Thrissur Lok Sabha seat

Rajeev Vs Tharoor

The campaign trail also saw NDA’s Rajeev Chandrasekhar and UDF’s Shashi Tharoor, both contesting for the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat, locking horns.

Chandrashekar sent a legal notice to Tharoor, accusing him of making defamatory statements against him on a TV channel recently.

According to him, the Congress candidate disseminated “patently false information” regarding the bribing of key voters and influential figures such as parish priests, among others.

The notice claimed that the statements by Tharoor were made with an intent to harm Chandrasekhar’s reputation and image and that his remarks also disrespected the entire Christian community of Thiruvananthapuram and its leaders by accusing them of engaging in cash-for-votes activities.

The Election Commission issued a warning to Tharoor, and the police registered a case against him.

Also Read: Modi campaigns for Anil Antony in Pathanamthitta, says ‘lotus will bloom’ in Kerala

Corruption charge 

The allegation levelled against BJP’s Pathanamthitta candidate Anil Antony by T G Nandakumar aka Dallal Nandakumar took the BJP leadership by surprise.

The allegation was that Antony took ₹25 lakh as a bribe for appointing an advocate as the standing counsel of CBI in the Kerala High Court.

Refuting the allegations, Antony came down heavily against Nandakumar and also against Congress leader PJ Kurien.

According to him, the opponents were playing dirty politics fearing that he would win the elections. “They leveled a baseless allegation after conspiring with a criminal case accused,” said him.

Also Read: ‘My son Anil Antony should lose the election,’ says Congress veteran AK Antony

‘My son should not win‘ 

Congress veteran AK Antony’s statement that his son (Anil Antony) should lose, and his rival, the Congress candidate Anto Antony should win was discussed widely. 

He (Anil K Antony) will lose the poll. Anto will emerge victorious. I am not going to Pathanamthitta for the UDF candidate because I have health issues and it’s not possible to travel that far,Antony said at a news conference.

He also termed the act of children of Congress leaders joining the BJP wrong.”

DNA remark 

Ruling LDF MLA PV Anwar sparked a row by saying that the DNA of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi should be examined.

According to him, the Congress leader had become a fourth-grade citizen who did not deserve to be called by the surname of Gandhi.

Irked over Gandhi’s recent remarks against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Anwar asked how a person hailing from the Nehru family could make such statements.

“My opinion is that Rahul Gandhi’s DNA should be examined. There is no dispute in it,” Anwar said at a meeting organised by the LDF local committee at Edathanattukara in Palakkad. 

(Edited by Majnu Babu)