There were already signs that the BJP was attempting to transform its Thiruvananthapuram candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan into a divine ascetic, a proletarian deity of sorts. One of the campaign posters, for instance, has Kummanam in a yogic 'maharishi'-like pose, with a radiant smile and a commoner's glass of tea in his hand.
Nothing could have suggested better the average BJP worker's belief that their candidate was no less a deity than the 'singing contest' that took place on the morning of April 16 at a crowded junction near the coast. On one side, loudspeakers put up by the famous Pazhanchira Devi Temple as part of its 'pongala' festival blurted out devotional songs extolling the grace of the Devi. On the other, massive speakers mounted on pick-up trucks, jeeps and autorickshaws sang praises of "Rajettan". The holy monk versus the goddess. There was utter chaos at the busy junction.
The 'contest' went on for nearly an hour, till Kummanam arrived by around 9.30am. The temple authorities then had to silence their Devi chants for the monk to take over. The candidate climbed up a truck improvised to look like a stage and said a few words to begin the day's campaign.
It was the start of the second leg of Kummanam's campaign in Nemom, the Assembly segment where BJP's O Rajagopal had made history in 2016. The plan was to take the candidate through the congested interiors of the constituency; sleepy residential areas and small village towns safely hidden behind the chaos of the capital city.
Politics and religion
The candidate's journey through these places resembled the 'parayeduppu' ritual of temples, sharpening the image of the candidate as a person with God-like purity. During the traditional 'parayeduppu', the deity is taken out in a specially-designed vehicle to the homes of devotees with great fanfare, with a percussion ensemble at the head of the procession. The family members devoutly wait for the deity right in front of their homes with lamps, rice and flowers arranged on a neatly covered platform.
Kummanam, too, was carried in a special vehicle (a pick-up truck rigged to look like a roofed chariot). The air was festive, too. Leading the way were young boys wearing Modi masks and playing a wild energetic sort of band music at the back of another pick-up truck. Almost every 20 metres along the way, around a cloth-covered table with a lamp and a profusion of saffron garlands, families waited expectantly for Kummanam.
Hard work behind the scenes
As the candidate's vehicle neared, crackers were burst and women and children showered flower petals on him. Kummanam looked uncomfortable with the deafening bursts but was clearly touched by the attention he was getting. There were enthusiastic crowds, mostly families, at every point. But it did not look like the families were told of Kummanam's visit just when they got up in the morning.
The build-up to the candidate's visit was done clearly in advance. The saffron BJP caps and the Modi masks on children along the way, the saffron festoons and the BJP flags that fluttered along the entire route that the candidate's cavalcade moved were proof that the Sangh Parivar machinery had worked overtime to whip up adequate frenzy before the candidate came visiting.
Man who embraced poverty
The welcome given to Kummanam looked more like a pious family ritual than a political exercise. Men and women lifted their children up so that they could garland Kummanam, and in turn be touched and kissed by him. The warmth of these moments were electrified by militant shouts of 'Bolo Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and the wild band music of Modi-faced boys.
Kummanam, who is 66, generally looked tired, and mostly wore a sad but sincere smile. But he looked happy, like a weak man who had found something to cheer about, when children were lifted up to him. He bend a long way from up his perch to receive their garlands, touch them and kiss them. He spotted children among the crowd and gently threw lotus buds at them.
"He is a man who has given up all that he had for the poor. Rajettan is a saint," a mother said. She was referring to a piece of information that had recently gone viral on social media, and by now had acquired folk tale dimensions among right-wing Hindus. It is said that Kummanam had given away to the poor almost all of the Rs 31 lakh he had received as governor's salary. His election affidavit states that he has only Rs 513 as liquid cash with him. The affidavit also states that he has a total savings of just over Rs 1 lakh in two SBI bank accounts.
Kummanam's mass entry
Nonetheless, Kummanam's reputation for self-denial does not sit well with the blockbuster introduction that he is provided during this campaign. The only time another person had such an outrageously grand entry into a scene in Kerala was way back in 2010, when Mammootty's character 'Raja' was introduced in the film 'Pokkiri Raja'.
Raja's introductory parade had some 20-odd Innova cars. Kummanam's would have seriously hurt Pokkiri Raja's pride; 50-odd motorbikes, scores of autorickshaws, two dozen cars, jeeps, and trucks. A boisterous, seemingly unending, caravan that passed through painfully narrow and curvy back alleys and bylanes, causing huge traffic blocks whenever it crossed the main road to enter the side road on the other side. It took nearly five hours for the Kummanam parade to move 30km along the western side of Nemom. The post-noon session, along the eastern side, was also in slow motion.
We asked Kummanam whether such a show of ostentation would mock his spartan image. "Not at all. We pay rent only for two cars. The rest have come on their own. It just shows their love for the party," Kummanam said.
This statement perhaps could be disputed. But what cannot be is the super-charged mood of the mostly young RSS-BJP workers who carry Kummanam along the interiors of the capital under a smouldering sun. It was evident that they were ready to do anything for their candidate. An army of dedicated followers neither Shashi Tharoor nor C Divakaran can boast of.