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Lok Sabha elections 2024: All signs point to repeat of 2019 sweep. BJP has zero chances, says Shashi Tharoor

Updated on: 17 April,2024 07:28 AM IST  |  Thiruvananthapuram
Vinod Kumar Menon |

Three-time Thiruvananthapuram MP says he doesn’t see saffron party getting any significant votes from minorities

Lok Sabha elections 2024: All signs point to repeat of 2019 sweep. BJP has zero chances, says Shashi Tharoor

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who is contesting Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat, at a campaign event on Monday. Pic/Atul Kamble

Key Highlights

  1. Shashi Tharoor is all set to contest Thiruvananthapuram constituency Lok Sabha seat again
  2. He will be up against BJP’s Rajeev Chandrasekhar
  3. Both Tharoor and Chandrasekhar spared a few minutes to answer mid-day’s questions

Senior Congress leader and three-time parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, 68, is all set to contest the Thiruvananthapuram constituency Lok Sabha seat again. He will be up against BJP’s Rajeev Chandrasekhar, 59, a minister of state at the Centre, who is leaving no stone unturned to give his rival a tough fight. Both Tharoor and Chandrasekhar, who were in the midst of their election campaigns, spared a few minutes to answer mid-day’s questions about various issues.

Excerpts from our interview with Tharoor:

Do you think the state’s Christian and Muslim population will vote for the BJP?
I don’t think so. Frankly, there is a limit to communal politics in our country and particularly in this state. Kerala is in many ways a state that symbolises the coexistence of many religions. We have welcomed all faiths to our state, going back to the Jews 2,500 years ago, fleeing Babylonian and Roman persecution. We had Christians, we had Muslims, every community has felt welcomed in this state and as far as we are concerned, that is the way we have always wanted to remain.

Shashi Tharoor, veteran Congress leader
Shashi Tharoor, veteran Congress leader

There is always a very very small constituency for a Hindu Rashtra and even less for the Hindi, Hindutva, Hindustan slogans of BJP supporters in northern India. So that kind of appeal simply has no traction in Kerala and that is one of the reasons they are trying a different track now. But we cannot forget that they have a national policy, which proclaims Hindu Rashtra and proclaims, frankly, rather unpleasant things about minorities, which are simply not palatable in Kerala. So, I do not see them getting any significant votes from either of those communities, though not everybody necessarily votes on the basis of their communities alone.
How important is the poll outcome in Kerala for the BJP?
Oh, I think it has a great symbolic value because if they are able to open their account here, it would be breaching a fortress that stood since independence. Never has the BJP or its forerunners—whether it is a Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) or the so-called Hindu Munnani, a right-wing party here in Kerala—been able to open a Hindu Mahasabha. Before that, no one could open an account for communal politics. If they are able to do this, it would be transformative for the BJP and the echoes will be far greater than you can imagine, which is winning one seat, would signify. So for us, it is extremely important to insist that even this one seat should be denied to the BJP.
What are the BJP’s chances in the state?
Zero. Absolutely zero.

The party has well-known candidates like actor Suresh Gopi in Thrissur and businessman and minister of state Rajeev Chandrasekhar contesting from Thiruvananthapuram. PM Modi had graced Gopi’s daughter’s wedding. How do you view these optics?
While you are mentioning that, you can also mention that he [PM] went to Attingal, and not to Thiruvananthapuram, which is the constituency of V Muraleedharan, MOS – External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs, so clearly Modi is spreading himself, a little bit, but I will say that there is again a limit to personal popularity. I am firmly of the view that in Kerala, Modi’s politics has a limited appeal; it might be slightly greater than his party, but that is yet to be tested. However, it is unlikely to swing the results, because we already saw Modi coming before the 2019 elections twice to Thiruvananthapuram. Amit Shah came thrice if I remember correctly. Nirmala Sitharaman was here for a couple of weeks and Prakash Javadekar as well as Prahalad Joshi were also here and they still got a zero, at the end of all their troubles.  I would say that the past precedent has not been terribly encouraging for the BJP. Obviously, they want to script a new narrative each time and in all fairness to them, they are trying very hard. But I do not think that the result will be any different.
The BJP hopes to win 10 seats in Kerala. Your reaction?
I think there is only one digit that is wrong. You take off the number one from there and the zero there is perfectly alright.

Shashi Tharoor VS Rajeev Chandrashekhar
 Shashi Tharoor VS Rajeev Chandrashekhar

Chandrasekhar has sent a legal notice to you. It is being said by people close to him that a CBDT [Central Board of Direct Taxes] inquiry was initiated against him due to your complaint.
Nothing was done at my behest. The complaint was filed by the Congress party and the LDF [Left Democratic Front]. Individual advocates filed the complaints. I, as a candidate, did not even have time to look at his [Chandrasekhar’s] affidavit. I am on the campaign trail from early morning till late night. I have no time to study his affidavit. I had not asked for any of that. There are people who have been raising these objections for many years in Karnataka, and three years ago, the Election Commission had forwarded this issue to the CBDT, and this time again to the CBDT, but honestly, they are not my complaints. As far as I am concerned, Chandrasekhar is somebody I would much rather defeat fair and square. I have no desire to see him disqualified and I am not seeking that myself. However, my party and for that matter, the other Opposition party has every right to seek it if they feel that there has been a flagrant violation of the requirements of the democratic election. Let that be established in a formal procedure by the Election Commission. I have no problem with that.
Your comment on the war of words between senior Congress leader A K Antony and his son Anil, the BJP candidate from Pathanamthitta...
I am deeply saddened for two reasons. Firstly, for any son to speak like this about his father is sad under any circumstances, but particularly for A K Antony, who has been known throughout his working life as a man of principle and integrity, whatever else you may say about him, he deserves better than being attacked for sticking to his political principles, over his ties of blood to his own son Secondly, I feel saddened because Anil Antony was a protégé of mine. I am the one who gave him his first couple of appointments in the Congress party; not at his father’s request, as his father had at no point interceded. He is a very correct man in these matters, but  I respected Anil’s expertise, particularly in studying digital media and I gave him an opportunity to head the digital media cell of the KPCC [Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee] and I encouraged him by giving a couple of other opportunities. I am very disappointed frankly, that, in a party where he would have found a great deal of respect and welcome, including because of his family ties and also because of his expertise, that he has chosen to abandon his father’s party. I will say that I am particularly sad, as well, but at the end of the day, when you are looking at politics, you are looking at who can win elections and I am sorry to say that Anil is not going to come very far, in the electoral fray.
You had made a statement recently stating that this might be your last Lok Sabha election? Why?
Look, I made the statement because when I entered politics fifteen years ago, little did I imagine that after a twenty-nine-year career [1978 to 2007] in the United Nations, I would be a member of Parliament for twenty years, but here it seems to be happening because we look as if we are pretty well ahead in this election, and this would be an opportunity to serve the people of Thiruvananthapuram for one last time in the Lok Sabha. I did not rule out any other election, whether to the state Assembly or Rajya Sabha, depending upon what my party demands and what the people want. Frankly, my interest in politics is to be entirely national and international, but if circumstances become such that the party requests me to take interest in the state, I cannot turn away from my state and I will not rule anything out,  but nor am I talking about the state politics at the time when my focus is on unseating the BJP from power in Delhi and forming a new inclusive government that is determined to undo some of the damage that is done to our nation in the last ten years and create a better India for all. I would love to be part of that first of all. I think, it is only for whatever reason, if that doesn’t work out, which I hope will not be the case, only then the other options have to be considered. Otherwise, I would love to serve my nation.
You won the 2019 election by a margin of almost one lakh votes. What would be the case in 2024?
We are looking at a repeat of 2019. I am not a predictor of either election numbers or cricket scores, though I am a fan of both, but I would like to say that the results are what I like to predict, the details we have to wait for June 4. Everything that we are seeing on the ground—and we have been extensively campaigning across the constituency—suggests that we are looking at a repeat of 2019. Three surveys have come out from the major state media in Kerala and all three are pointing to a victory. The newspaper Malayalam Manorama gives me an 11-point lead, and another, Mathrubhumi, gives me an eight-point lead. One way or the other, it looks like the surveys are suggesting that I am ahead and my own team’s impressions from our campaign suggest that I am ahead. Journalists who interviewed me tell me that their impression is that I am ahead. So, with all of this, I am not particularly worried about the outcome, a specific number can always wait.
What is your appeal and advice to first-time voters?
I would tell them that many of them have come across me while they were going to school and so on. I have come across a lot of first-time voters, including during my visits to college campuses. So to them, I do not need to preach anything more. I represent what they have seen and what they say they have admired. I will point to the fact that Thiruvananthapuram had the services of a hardworking dedicated and effective MP for fifteen years and that I stand ready to do the same. I was out there in every crisis from Cyclone Ockhi to COVID and I hope very much to continue, to be ready for action as the people of Thiruvananthapura, might need me and therefore they should cast their vote, looking at individual competence and their sense of vision and their track records.
I brought out sixty-six-page booklets of all my development achievements before the elections were declared to show people that an MP can do a lot. I can explain to people if they are curious, exactly what I have done to bring about the results. I will urge first-time voters to be in safe hands and count on me.

June 4
Day results will be announced

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