Ground Report: A political thriller unfolds in Thrissur Lok Sabha seat

The political landscape in Thrissur has heated up, with all major parties racing towards a close finish.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Apr 19, 2024 | 9:27 AMUpdatedApr 19, 2024 | 10:41 AM

Thrissur Ground Report

The south-westerlies whistling down the Western Ghats brought little respite from the oppressive heat. The shooting mercury failed to wilt the spirit of Thrissur, celebrating Pooram, Kerala’s famed annual festival.

Thrissur Pooram, touted as the iconic festival of festivals, will culminate on Friday, 19 April, with fireworks lighting up the pre-dawn sky the next day.

Themes borrowed from popular Malayalam flicks Premalu and Manjummel Boys, and Gaganyaan  — demonstrating India’s manned space mission capabilities — will draw multi-coloured booming patterns over Thrissur city as part of the pyrotechnic display.

A week after Pooram, another festival ends on 26 April, as Kerala elects 20 members of the 18th Lok Sabha, the Lower House of India’s bicameral Parliament.

The world’s largest festival of democracy has 543 mini-Poorams across the country. The one in Thrissur, Kerala’s cultural capital, has garnered much interest with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading multiple campaigns for the NDA candidate.

Also Read: Congress slams Kerala govt for exempting school mid-day meal scheme from obtaining food safety licence

Fight for supremacy

Thrissur’s political landscape has turned hot with all major parties racing towards an apparent close finish. The constituency unveils a tapestry of intriguing strategies, and fervent campaigning as parties vie for supremacy.

K Muraleedharan at Kanjoor on Tuesday

K Muraleedharan at Kanjoor on Tuesday. (Dileep V Kumar/South First)

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Congress-led UDF, which currently holds the seat.

It sprang a surprise, replacing sitting MP TN Prathapan with K Muraleedharan, who represented Vadakara in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

Prathapan was replaced after Padmaja Venugopal, daughter of the late Congress veteran followed in the footsteps of Anil K Antony, son of another party stalwart AK Antony, and joined the BJP.

The Congress was expecting to counter Padmaja’s switchover by fielding her brother Muraleedharan.

However, another version suggested that Prathapan was perceived to have less chance of winning. The pulse from the ground indicated that the move, though unconventional, did not go down well with the electorate and Congress workers.

Sindhu Ramesh, a cleaner, represented the grassroots-level voters.

“When the news of the Congress party finalising its candidate came, graffiti and posters seeking support for Prathapan had already come up in the constituency. The change in the candidate underscores the party’s inefficiency,” she told South First.

A party worker, who requested anonymity, said the abrupt change resulted in an infighting in the party, which might reflect in the poll outcome.

Also Read: Rajnath seeks Congress stand on CPI(M) promise to dismantle nukes

Political Kudamattam 

Muraleedharan had once contested to the Lok Sabha from Thrissur in 1998. He then lost to CPI veteran VV Raghavan.

However, the previous defeat has not dented Muraleedharan’s confidence. His victory against CPI(M) strongman P Jayarajan by a margin of 84,663 votes in Vadakara in 2019, has fuelled his belief in having a consecutive second term.

Since 1991, Thrissur has the habit of alternating between the two fronts, like the Pooram’s ritualistic Kudamattam — changing colourful parasols atop caparisoned elephants. No parasol would be used a second time.

Congress had won three consecutive polls, in 1984, 1989, and 1991. In the subsequent polls, the electorate oscillated between the CPI and Congress.

In 2019, Prathapan emerged victorious securing 4,15,089 votes. CPI’s Rajaji Mathew Thomas came second with 3,21,456 votes.

Also read: Kerala church screens documentary on Manipur violence

In Manipur’s shadow

Christian votes would play a major role in deciding the fate of the candidates. The Congress has included the Manipur violence and the BJP’s alleged hand in it. The party also took a swipe at the LDF for not wanting to be a part of the INDIA bloc in Kerala.

When South First caught up with Muraleedharan at Kanjoor, he was heard saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Thrissur three times within a short period, did not visit Manipur even once.

In the case of the INDIA bloc, he alleged that it was Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who was holding back the LDF from joining the Opposition alliance in the state.

Also Read: ‘Yuvraj’ couldn’t save Amethi seat, came to Kerala: Modi’s swipe at Rahul Gandhi

LDF riding on 2021 glory

The LDF is leaving no stone unturned in its bid to recapture the constituency.

VS Sunilkumar at Puthukkad on Tuesday. (South First)

VS Sunilkumar at Puthukkad on Tuesday. (Dileep V Kumar/South First)

Pitching seasoned campaigner and former agriculture minister VS Sunilkumar of the CPI, the LDF aims to leverage his familiarity with the region and his track record in governance to sway votes in its favour.

According to Kumar, the fight is between the UDF and LDF. The BJP-led NDA will once again end up third.

“LDF will emerge victorious. In the past 10 years, the BJP has torn apart the social and secular fabric of the nation. They are trying to make our nation a Hindu nation. Our campaigning focuses on that aspect,” he told South First.

He also added that electoral bond schemes, political corruption, corporate-RSS alliances, and others are also being highlighted.

Kumar said the Congress cannot be trusted to counter the BJP’s challenge.

“It has lost its credibility. It lacks a unanimous and steady stance on various topics that affect the nation. Take the case of CAA, it has a stoic silence on the issue. All these issues are being discussed with and conveyed to the voters,” he added.

The LDF is upbeat on its 2021 Assembly poll record. It won all seven Assembly segments that form the Lok Sabha constituency. Guruvayoor, Manaloor, Ollur, Thrissur, Nattika, Irinjalakuda, and Puthukkad form the Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency.

The Front believes that the pro-left swing will continue.

Also Read: People of state won’t believe PM Modi’s poll promises: Kerala CM Vijayan

BJP takes the family route

Meanwhile, the NDA has actor-politician Suresh Gopi as its candidate. The BJP, in particular, is banking on Gopi’s star power and charisma to sway votes in its favour.

Suresh Gopi during a family meet at Marathakkara. (South First)

Suresh Gopi during a family meet at Marathakkara. (Dileep V Kumar/South First)

With Prime Minister Modi visiting the constituency on multiple occasions, the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to convert these high-profile visits into tangible electoral gains.

The BJP is holding several kudumbasangamams — or family meetings — to consolidate its vote base in the constituency.

“The party is focusing on a micro-level approach. That’s why a lot of Kudumbasangamams are being organised. People of all castes and religions attend these meetings,” Girijan, a BJP supporter at Marathakkara, stressed the diverse religions and castes.

With the addition of Irinjalakkuda (it was previously part of the erstwhile Mukundapuram constituency), the Christian votes increased by more than 35 percent in Thrissur. Muslims, too, have a larger say in the constituency.

“We feel that such family meet will do more good than public conventions,” Girijan added.

Also Read: People won’t believe PM Modi’s poll promises: Kerala CM Vijayan

Modi’s Cabinet guarantee

South First caught up with candidate Gopi in one such family meet at Marathakkara on Tuesday, 16 April.

One of the billboards in Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency. It says, 'Modi's Guarantee: A Union Minister for Thrissur.' (South First)

A billboard in Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency. It says, ‘Modi’s Guarantee: A Union Minister for Thrissur.’ (Dileep V Kumar/South First)

He told the participants that the BJP would possibly win and everyone should vote for the BJP.

The same day, he attended 10 such Kudumbasangamams at Koorkanjeri, Nadathara, Ollukkara, Peechi, and others.

The BJP activists have also been widely campaigning that if elected, Gopi would get a Union Cabinet berth. They termed it Modi’s guarantee.

At various places in the constituency, billboards as well as posters have appeared highlighting the ‘guarantee’.

“During our house visits, we highlight this aspect. If Suresh Gopi becomes a Union Minister, it could change Thrissur’s profile and it is sure to emerge as a sought-after destination. An overall progress is guaranteed,” Girijan further said.

Also Read: Rajnath Singh seeks Cong stand on CPI(M) manifesto promise to dismantle nukes

Minority matters

Certain sections of people, especially Christians, are not enthused about BJP or Gopi.

Mobile shopowner Anto Thomas felt Suresh Gopi is yet to recover from acting hangover. In picture, a poster of Gopi's recent film, 'Garudan'.(Sourced)

Mobile shop owner Anto Thomas felt Suresh Gopi is yet to recover from acting hangover. In picture, a poster of Gopi’s recent film, ‘Garudan’. (Sourced)

“For me, he (Suresh Gopi) is not worthy enough. He is a politician who is yet to recover from his acting hangover. If he cares so much about Christians, then why didn’t he utter a word on Manipur?,” Anto Thomas wondered loudly.

“Our (Christian community’s) WhatsApp groups still receive notifications on incidents of violence against Christians in Manipur. It’s because of the BJP and they will have to pay for it,” Thomas, a mobile shop owner near Swaraj Round, sounded determined.

Gopi, in a bid to woo the Christian community, had earlier offered a golden crown to Our Lady of Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral in Thrissur. He was also found signing Christian devotional songs in connection with Easter.

“My take is that this is a golden opportunity for the electorate in Thrissur. This time, they can choose Suresh Gopi. He is not like other politicians who shower promises. He asks us to vote for him, saying he will take care of the rest,” Shine, an autorickshaw driver at Puthukkad, told South First.

In his previous outing, Gopi ended up third, garnering only 2,93,822 votes.

Business consultant N Krishnan summed up the mood succinctly. “All three candidates have the chance to win. They can woo voters in their own way. But I feel that the Christian and Muslim voters will have a say in deciding the winner. Women voters are also important,” he predicted.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)