What the CPM has done in Vattiyoorkavu is the political equivalent of asking a steeple chase runner to compete in equestrian sport. Both the events have their share of hurdles, all right. But the rules, and the way to go about doing things, are completely different.
At least, there has to be a horse in equestrian. In Vattiyoorkavu, this horse, or the vehicle that could carry the competitor over the innumerable obstacles, is the Nair community.
The CPM has put up an Ezhava candidate in perhaps the most Nair-dominated constituency in Kerala. Informal data collected by all major parties show that over 45-50 per cent voters in Vattiyoorkavu are Nairs. The Ezhava community is not even the second most dominant group in the constituency. Christians, who are traditionally inclined to the Congress, occupy that position.
The Congress and the BJP had never picked a non-Nair for this segment. This time, the Congress has fielded K Mohan Kumar, the giant killer who had once managed to wrest Thiruvananthapuram North, the constituency from which Vattiyoorkavu was carved out, from the CPM's seemingly invincible M Vijayakumar.
The BJP, after nearly picking its most popular face Kummanam Rajasekharan as its candidate, had a rethink at the last moment and chose a relatively young face, its Thiruvananthapuram district president S Suresh.
CPM's bold gamble
The CPM alone is going for broke. By picking young V K Prasanth as its Vattiyoorkavu candidate, the party is also throwing a challenge at the voters:
'See, we have put up a candidate who has done commendable work as Thiruvananthapuram Mayor. Let's see whether you can rise above your petty caste and clan loyalties.'
Going to battle with a young performer at the head is seen in the CPM as the only way to resist another round of emotional mobilisation in the name of Sabarimala. The balm of performance to heal wounded faith.
Vattiyoorkavu is not only a place with a high concentration of Nairs, it also has active 'karayogams' that can sway the minds of its members. Even a small conspiratorial whisper of what happened in Sabarimala is enough to blow up a hurt that many say is still glowing deep inside the faithful among the Nairs.
Faith in the Mayor
This, in short, is a constituency where faith matters a lot. Possibly why the Left, seen as a collective of atheists, has very nearly ceased to be a force to reckon with after the rise of Narendra Modi and the BJP.
So, in its ambitious bid to revive its fortunes, here were two conditions the CPM had set for its candidate. One, he should be least provocative. Two, he should not be asked to account for the Pinarayi Vijayan government's controversially liberal stand on Sabarimala. Thiruvananthapuram's boyish and engaging Mayor V K Prasanth looked just right.
Gone with the Modi wind
It was during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the Modi wave was sweeping through the country, that the Left first lost its way in Vattiyoorkavu. The CPI candidate Bennet Abraham came a distant third, but he fared the worst in the Vattiyoorkavu assembly segment.
BJP's O Rajagopal, though he ended up second to Shashi Tharoor, had a lead of over 3,000 votes over Tharoor in the Vattiyoorkavu segment. Five years later, when the NSS Thiruvananthapuram Taluk Union backed Tharoor, Kummanam could not retain the BJP's lead in the segment.
Long hidden secret
The 2014 LS poll was just a 'coming out' moment. “Nairs in the constituency were silent right-wingers. They chose Modi's emergence as the supreme leader to reveal their true colours,” said a top CPI leader based in Thiruvananthauram.
The 2016 assembly polls was further confirmation. The BJP's Kummanam Rajasekharan gave such a spirited fight that from a mere 11 per cent vote share in 2011, his share ballooned to 32 per cent. Congress's K Muraleedharan won, but his share fell precipitously from 50.19 per cent to 37.65 per cent.
The CPM's T N Seema came a miserable third, the party's share dwindling from 35.84 per cent in 2011 to 29.6 per cent. The 2019 Lok Sabha polls, too, saw the CPI candidate finishing a distant third in Vattiyoorkavu.
Left's halcyon days
Before the arrival of Modi, the Left was a mighty presence in this Central Thiruvananthapuram constituency. Its clout started to wane only in 2011, when the borders of the constituency that was till then known as Thiruvananthapuram North were redrawn and was re-christened Vattiyoorkavu.
Most of the Ezhava dominated areas, where the Left had a clear upper hand, like Kadakampally, Attipra, Ulloor and Kazhakuttam were taken out of Thiruvananthapuram North and was made part of what became the Kazhakuttam assembly constituency.
It was the rich mosaic of castes and religions that seemed to have given the CPM the edge in the segment. CPM's M Vijayakumar had won four times since Thiruvananthapuram North was formed in 1977.
Even then the Nair community called the shots. The 1977 assembly election, the first after the formation of Thiruvananthapuram North, was won by Vattiyoorkavu Ravi, the candidate of National Democratic Party (NDP), the now non-existent political wing of Nair Service Society (NSS).
Later in 1991, when Vijayakumar scored his second victory from Thiruvananthauram North, the NDP was still a formidable presence. He could edge out the NDP candidate Ravindran Thampi only by a slender margin of 340 votes.
After the NSS dissolved the NDP, Nair votes generally flowed to the Congress till Modi appeared on the horizon. The Christians, too, were largely with the Congress. “The Left still managed to win because Vijayakumar was a Nair, and then the CPM had the Ezhava votes all to themselves” a top NSS leader in Thiruvananthauram said.
Flash in the pan
An Ezhava candidate did win, but only once. The year was 1980 and the Left led by CPM leader E K Nayanar had the support of a formidable young Congress splinter group that was fired by anti-Emergency idealism and led by A K Antony. The CPM stalwart K Anirudhan defeated the NDP candidate R Sundareshan Nair by a fairly thin margin of 2,260 votes.
Two years later, when quick elections were called after the Antony Congress walked out of the E K Nayanar ministry, Anirudhan was trounced by Congress's firebrand youth leader G Karthikeyan, a Nair, by a margin of 8,846 votes.
It was by defeating Karthikeyan in 1987 that Vijayakumar began his reign. He scored a hat-trick (1987, 1991 and 1996), but was felled by Congress's K Mohan Kumar in 2001. Five years later, in 2006, Vijayakumar had his revenge when he defeated Mohan Kumar by nearly 10,000 votes.
The upper crust
From 2011 onwards, when Vattiyoorkavu was formed with a substantial chunk of Ezhava votes shifted to Kazhakuttom, the segment became overwhelmingly Nair.
With upmarket blocks in the capital like Sasthamangalam, Nanthencode and Kannammoola, too, added to it, Vattiyoorkavu also became the constituency where the most influential voters – politicians, top bureaucrats, doctors and businessmen – lived.
What's more, all the top educational institutions and business concerns fall within Vattiyoorkavu.