Taking back the saffron fort: How Nemom is becoming an integral battleground in Kerala

The quaint constituency in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram is becoming a battlefield where all three alliances are going head-on to determine an optics that is integral in the state-level campaigning
Taking back the saffron fort: How Nemom is becoming an integral battleground in Kerala

As the various political fronts are busy in their preparation of the candidate list in Kerala ahead of the Assembly elections, Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram has become a topic of contention among the various groups. Historically, the constituency has not been anyone’s fort and has moved between the various alliances and parties.

In the last ten years, Nemom has become a powerhouse for the BJP, which hastened after O Rajagopal came to power in 2016. Political observers believe that the saffron party was able to establish a power centre in the constituency despite it being a volatile constituency, and have now stabilised it. The BJP has arrived with a definite claim on the land and by fielding Kummanam Rajasekharan, they are sending out the message that they are not taking it for granted. They have declared that the LDF and UDF can field anyone they want, including Rahul Gandhi, and still wouldn’t change anything.

While political pundits believe that while winning Nemom could be seen as a tall task, the optics of the fight could change the tide in favour of either the left alliance or the democratic front

While the left would want to claim it theirs, V Sivankutty won Nemom for CPM in 2011 but lost his vote share in 2016 following the Assembly debacle during KM Mani’s Budget speech. Nemom has been a Congress seat as much as it has been a left seat. On the other hand, Sivankutty, who will be facing the polls at Nemom once more, claimed that his loss in 2016 was due to the Congress selling their votes to the BJP, and allegations that found prominence during the same time. However, the UDF vote share had not been a prominent factor, since many election pundits had claimed that it was the CPM votes that switched over to the BJP.

To take in numbers, according to experts, while comparing the 2011 and 2016 results, the increase of around 26,000 voters was balanced between BJP and CPM’s collective 33,000 increase in votes. However, interestingly, CPM lost their vote share to BJP, just like the other parties had. Moreover, in the 2020 local polls, BJP emerged a clear winner in the wards under the Nemom constituency but lost their sitting wards in the coastal belt. Therefore, regardless of history, the LDF and UDF have a long fight ahead of them. Moreover, both the alliance has made a strong stand against BJP and NDA, making the recovery of Nemom from the latter a matter of prestige.

While political pundits believe that while winning Nemom could be seen as a tall task, the optics of the fight could change the tide in favour of either alliance. Right now, Sivankutty cannot be seen as a strong candidate from the left side, even though the LDF would love the people to believe that. He has been MLA multiple times, including once from Nemom. He has also been mayor of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation but none of this is to say that he is a hard hitter for Nemom. Especially after he lost the last election to the BJP in 2016, giving way to the first BJP MLA in Kerala history. On the other hand, the BJP state president is confident that Nemom will witness a strong battle between the left and the saffron. This is because Congress has not yet decided who will go there.

According to KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran, the BJP calls Nemom as their Gujarat and so mounting a proper offence in integral. However, to claim that we need some like Oommen Chandy to win the fight is overestimating the saffron party and giving it extra mileage

In 2001 and 2006, INC’s N Sakthan performed very well by winning around 56,000 and 60,000 respectively. In 2011, he was moved to Kattakada, during which Nemom went to Socialist Janata (Democratic) in 2011 and Janata Dal (United) in 2016. The UDF went from 60,000 to 20,000 and 14,000 votes in 10 years, and the party is hoping to bring that number up as well as winning the seat. The first phase of that plan was to field a major candidate at the constituency. Not just a good one, but a major player, and the top two suggestions were Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Currently, the latter is the top contender for the post, but it is not without its resistance.

On Thursday, Kottayam Youth Congress has voiced their concern against Oommen Chandy standing for election in Nemom. They alleged that Chandy had been a prominent member for Puthupalli, where he had been winning for the past five decades, and removing him from his constituency is part of a conspiracy. They claimed that the party doesn’t need a big wig like Chandy to win back Nemom, and it can be done with hard work. The most liberal of political analysts don’t agree with that claim. They believe that the bigger the Congress candidate, the better the chance since it would proportionally deliver better optics.

However, throwing a wedge into this perception game, Oommen Chandy has reportedly gone against the decision to stand in Nemom, even though he had earlier claimed willingness and was waiting for the High Command decision. According to sources, the A group has strengthened their opposition to Chandy joining the fray in Nemom. However, the High Command is yet to decide on it. The reasoning is interesting. According to KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran, the BJP calls Nemom as their Gujarat and so mounting a proper offence in integral. However, to claim that we need some like Oommen Chandy to win the fight is overestimating the saffron party and giving it extra mileage. This makes sense since O Rajagopal only won once and other BJP forts have been breached in Kerala.

If Muraleedharan does stand the election, then it would be interesting, since Kummanam and he had already gone head to head in 2016, but on Muraleedharan’s turf

In that sense, then the party has two other options in Ramesh Chennithala and K Muraleedharan. The former has more flexibility than Chandy, with Ramesh representing Haripad for 20 years, and as a Member of Parliament for Kottayam for a decade and Mavelikkara for a term. However, removing Ramesh from Haripad would mean that filling the space would be a difficult venture. Meanwhile, some sources claim that Rohit Chennithala would take his father’s place in Haripad if the latter move to Nemom. This is another concern for the party. Chandy is also playing pressure tactics of his own, claims few sources. Chandy has asked the party to grant a seat to K Babu and KC Joseph or at least to one of them, preferably the former. Moreover, Chennithala is also reportedly backing out from Nemom, and it falls on Muraleedharan.

If Muraleedharan does stand the election, then it would be interesting, since Kummanam and he had already gone head to head in 2016, but on Muraleedharan’s turf. This time it would be on the BJP territory, but then again Vattiyoorkavu has one of the biggest Sangh vote shares in Thiruvananthapuram. How each party will bend the optics to their benefit would be an interesting sight to see. However, it would be the least possible sight, since the party is not supportive of fielding MPs in this election.

All of this while, the BJP has not officially released their candidate list, since sources claim that they are waiting for the UDF to release theirs. While they are confident, they aren’t going to go in unprepared. Their concerted efforts took BJP’s 12% vote share in 2011 to 32% in 2016, and with an incumbent seat, and aiming for 35, they would very much like to keep it. With O Rajagopal out, Suresh Gopi is an alternative, with Kummanam moving back to Vattiyoorkavu. Any way you pick it, Nemom has become an integral fight in Thiruvananthapuram pulling the attention of even central leadership.

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