Read The Hindu Notes of 20th April 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 20th April 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 20th April 2019
  • Either way, the news is bad

    If Pakistan does not take the IMF loan, it is in a mess. If it does, it is in a bigger mess

  • When Asad Umar, Finance Minister of Pakistan, returned from Washington after attending the Spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank a few days ago, the first task he had in front of him was to deny the strong rumours that he was being demoted to be the petroleum minister. The rumours died down at that moment, but on Thursday, he was sent packing. He was, indeed, offered the petroleum ministry, which he has declined. (Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, a former Adviser under General Musharraf, has been named the adviser on finance, adding to the growing list of the Musharraf Cabinet in this current government.) At a moment when Pakistan’s economy is facing a major crisis, it also has no finance minister now. Whoever will take the new job will have to face challenges they may neither be prepared for nor experienced enough to deal with.
  • In free-fall mode

  • Pakistan’s economy has been ruined in the last eight months since when Imran Khan became Prime Minister and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) formed the government. Almost every indicator has deteriorated substantially. For example, inflation, at 9.4%, is at its highest level in five-and-a-half years and is likely to rise to double digits for the months ahead. The rupee continues to lose value every other day, which adds to further inflation especially with the oil price on the way up. More devaluation is expected over the next few months especially when the government gives in to yet another IMF programme. The fiscal deficit is about to hit more than 6% of GDP, and even a cut in development expenditure will not stop this rot, as defence spending and interest payments continue to rise. Pakistan’s exports which have been stuck at around $26 bn for years, despite the 35% devaluation of the rupee over one year, have barely budged. The government owes power producing companies huge amounts of money — known as the circular debt — which continues to accumulate, and interest rates are also going up making the cost of business even more uncompetitive. The State Bank of Pakistan recently lowered the expectations of the GDP growth for the current fiscal year to an eight-year low, to around 3.5%, an estimate which was reduced further by the IMF and the World Bank to a dismal 2.9% for the current fiscal year, and expected to fall further over the next three years. The GDP grew by 5.8% in the last fiscal year, the highest in 13 years. By all accounts, Pakistan’s economy is in a dismal state.
  • Key factors

  • A major reason why the economy has taken such a sharp plunge, with GDP growth being halved within a year, is on account of the mismanagement and incompetence of the current government and by its economic team. On top of that, there has been the hubris led by and manifested in Mr. Khan, once saying that he would rather commit suicide than go to the IMF, popular slogans when one is the main nuisance factor in the opposition, but quite embarrassing as Prime Minister of a country facing a major economic meltdown.
  • The economic problem Pakistan faces at the moment, has two aspects to it, and is a major case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. One reason why Pakistan’s economy is in such a mess is because the arrogance and bravado of Mr. Khan, which was mimicked by his economic and finance team, has come to haunt all of them. For eight months the economy has been mismanaged because of the fact that the then newly-elected government in August did not do what it should have. It was almost certain that whichever party would have won the elections of July 2018, it would ask the IMF for a major structural adjustment loan. At that time, there did not seem to be many alternatives. Mr. Khan’s strategy was to run to a few of Pakistan’s friends begging for money, and to not bow his head in front of the IMF. By not submitting to the IMF then, they now have no option but to submit almost a year later. A non-IMF policy and programme was always preferred and a better option in August last year, but the incompetence of Mr. Khan, matched with vanity, did not allow for reforms to be undertaken, and has only made matters far worse.
  • So, after having said that they won’t go to the IMF, that’s exactly where they are now. From finding (and failing at) alternatives to revive Pakistan’s economy, the finance minister has had to find ways to convince the IMF that Pakistan needs the IMF. The reasons for the rumours of him being dismissed from his post, should have been based on his poor performance of running the economy, but they shifted to how he wasn’t able to cut an IMF deal a few days ago when he was in Washington. The fact that he was not able to meet the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, nor the IMF head, Christine Lagarde, on this visit, was seen as yet another sign of this failure by the Pakistani media. Nevertheless, the IMF deal is now a certainty, and although the finance minister has been replaced, there was probably no need for a replacement. When the IMF implements its strict conditionalities and adjustment programme, to which the finance minister and the country supposedly ‘agree’, the finance minister becomes redundant and is simply the bearer and front for bad news and tough conditions. The new finance Adviser will fit this role perfectly.
  • Tough road ahead

  • The new IMF programme, the biggest Pakistan is expecting to receive, to be between $6-$10 bn, which is almost a certainty now, is going to make things far worse for all Pakistanis, and especially for the working people already dealing with prospects of a marked economic slowdown and high and rising inflation. The IMF will further cut the minuscule development expenditure left, although defence spending will remain a matter of ‘national security’ never discussed in Parliament, hence, not to be touched. The IMF will ensure austerity, stabilisation and will cut the growth rate further. It will insist on further devaluation, or ‘adjustment’ of the rupee, as it calls it, causing greater inflation, and will insist on raising utility prices. In every respect, the people of Pakistan will face the prospects of fewer jobs, rising prices and an economy which is now the worst performer in all of South Asia.
  • This will be the 13th IMF rescue package for Pakistan’s governments and its elites in less than four decades. Each time there is an economic crisis created due to mismanagement, the elite remain under-taxed, the IMF and World Bank jump in to save them. Usually, Pakistan’s governments in the past, especially the military, leverage Pakistan’s so-called geostrategic position and situation and gain undue access, with the U.S. having been Pakistan’s biggest champion and supporter. As global power shifts and the region changes, so has Pakistan’s position in it. One of the stumbling blocks to the deal this time has been the IMF’s insistence that Pakistan reveal the financial deals made with China, including financial loans, as well as the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. If Pakistan doesn’t take the IMF loan, it is in a mess. If it takes the loan, it is in a bigger mess. Either way, the news is bad.
  • A dialogue with our fragile past

    The world needs to look differently at its historical memory and the cultural heritage which embodies it

  • It is only after our heritage is destroyed, in natural disasters and conflicts, that we realise how fragile historical memory is — even for a globalised period of history like ours. The large fire that broke out in Paris on Monday and which consumed a part of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, is a grim reminder that centuries of heritage can be destroyed in minutes. Of course the French people can rebuild the physical structure and in this enterprise they will be certainly supported by the vast wealth of Europe, America and others, made possible by centuries of industrialisation and capital accumulation. But rebuilding the Notre-Dame de Paris does not mean that we can necessarily renew its original spirit — of blocks of sandstones which narrate their own geological and social history.
  • Undoubtedly, for over 800 years, the cathedral has been the driving force behind the eternal return of Paris as the ‘Heart of the World’.
  • Repository of history

  • As a powerful spiritual symbol of Christian faith, it counts many treasures, such as the crown of thorns, which are believed to have been placed on Jesus Christ’s head. Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral in 1909, after her execution for heresy in 1431. And, for more than three centuries, Notre-Dame has stood as a symbol of political change in France. During the French Revolution, its treasures were plundered. However, as seen in the famous painting of Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor of France at Notre-Dame in 1804. Other famous political ceremonies of the 20th and 21st centuries in France, such as the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation in 1944, the farewell to Charles de Gaulle in 1970, and a requiem mass in tribute to François Mitterrand in 1996, took place in the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
  • Last but not least, for nearly nine centuries, Notre-Dame has been at the centre of French and world literature. We all remember Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) with the cathedral as its centre plot. Hugo’s multiple references to the architecture of the Cathedral are breathtaking and stupefying.
  • Strangely, it is as if Hugo was present at the fire, when he described flames in the cathedral (when Quasimodo uses fire and stones to attack Truands in order to save Esmerelda): “All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time.”
  • Even for those of us who are not religious and yet believe in the cathedral as a spiritual home and a monument in glory of the human creativity, the horrific fire destroying this Gothic edifice has been a moment of tragedy and despair. Time might have been the devourer of Notre-Dame as Hugo wrote in his novel, but humanity has long been the enemy of its own heritage.
  • Spirit of freedom

  • As a matter of fact, what was important for Hugo, as for many other writers and intellectuals of his time, was the spirit of freedom represented by Notre-Dame. As he put it clearly, “There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture.” Hugo is right. To feel the spirit of Notre-Dame, as that of Paris, one needs the freedom of a flâneur. One needs to allow one’s gaze to be further absorbed by the play of light upon a meaningful stone that remained alive after a catastrophe.
  • Without the stones of Notre-Dame, these aesthetic compasses, we would never be able to take our responsibilities in the world. If we want to be at home in this century, even at a price of living in a topsy-turvy world, we must try to take part in a dialogue with our fragile past. We need to educate our senses and to look differently at our historical memory and the cultural heritage which embodies it.
  • For centuries, humanity has witnessed the destruction of its historical memory, and each time a new door to our common fate is closed forever. We all believe that this should not happen anymore. But it does happen, and we cannot reconcile ourselves with it. None of us can.
  • However, within this horizon of despair, which manifests itself in the fragility of human history, there is a moral horizon that expresses a love of humanity in spite of its brokenness. Heritage, therefore, expresses a joy of witnessing the past despite the sadness of historical destruction. It is this joy of witnessing the past that becomes an awareness of our landscape of memory. This awareness is the strongest evidence of the victory of peaceful coexistence between the past and the present. Those who fail to see it, forget to make a prayer that one day the organ pipes of Notre-Dame of Paris will once again reverberate through the sanctuary.
  • Saffron error

    The BJP seems to have fielded Pragya Singh Thakur for all the wrong reasons

  • Pragya Singh Thakur may not be the first person to contest in an election despite facing serious charges, but her candidacy on behalf of the BJP in the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency stands out as exceptionally controversial. She is arraigned as the prime accused and principal conspirator behind the September 2008 blast at Malegaon, in which six persons were killed. In other words, a person accused of a ‘terrorist act’ and against whom charges have been framed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is being fielded as a candidate, by a party that wants to underscore its anti-terrorism credentials. While many candidates may have criminal cases pending against them, it is highly unusual to find among mainstream party contestants one who has been accused of planting a bomb targeting a community. An obvious problem with Pragya Singh’s candidacy is that she appears to have been chosen solely as a totemic representative of aggressive Hindutva nationalism. She was not prominent as a BJP member until she was named the candidate for Bhopal, where she will take on senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. It is one thing to field a political leader who faces criminal charges, but quite another to create an electoral candidate out of a key terror suspect. It would appear that the sole purpose of fielding her is to bolster the BJP’s narrative that there never has been any ‘Hindu’ or ‘saffron’ terror group. Two blasts at Malegaon (2006 and 2008), the Samjhauta Express bombing near Panipat (February 2007), the explosions at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad (May 2007) and the Ajmer Dargah (October 2007) were linked to a fringe Hindu group called ‘Abhinav Bharat’, but the NIA had neither the political backing nor the ability to obtain convictions. To no one’s surprise, Ms. Singh lost little time in embarrassing the BJP by making serious allegations against the chief of the Mumbai Police Anti-Terrorist Squad, Hemant Karkare, who was martyred in the 26/11 terror attack.
  • Election law as it stands today does not bar one facing criminal charges from contesting, except those convicted of specified classes of offences, or those that entail a sentence of at least two years. If the mere pendency of a case was made a ground for disqualification, a vindictive regime could get any political opponent disqualified by merely slapping a criminal charge. However, given the tortuous process of taking a criminal prosecution to its conclusion, some have made a case for advancing the stage at which disqualification kicks in — by making a legislative change to rule out of the contest any person against whom charges have been framed by a competent court. It may be difficult to get enough lawmakers to agree to this significant change, but it can be a principle political parties adopt on their own. There have been instances of Union Ministers resigning from office as soon as charges were framed against them. There is no harm in extending this norm to the selection of candidates.
  • Humanise the law

    The draft Indian Forest Act must be redrawn to rid it of bureaucratic overreach

  • Modernising colonial era laws is a long-delayed project, but the draft Indian Forest Act, 2019 is woefully short of being a transformative piece of legislation. The original law, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, is an incongruous relic, its provisions having been drafted to suit the objectives of a colonial power that had extractive uses for forests in mind. A new law enacted should make a departure and be aimed to expand India’s forests, and ensure the well-being of traditional forest-dwellers and biodiversity in these landscapes. The need is for a paradigm that encourages community-led, scientifically validated conservation. This is critical, for only 2.99% of India’s geographic area is classified as very dense forest; the rest of the green cover of a total of 21.54% is nearly equally divided into open and moderately dense forest, according to the State of Forest Report 2017. The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence. The hardline policing approach is reflected in the emphasis on creating infrastructure to detain and transport the accused, and to penalise entire communities through denial of access to forests for offences by individuals. Such provisions invariably affect poor inhabitants, and run counter to the empowering and egalitarian goals that produced the Forest Rights Act.
  • India’s forests play a key role in moderating the lives of not just the adivasis and other traditional dwellers, but everyone in the subcontinent, through their impact on the climate and monsoons. Their health can be improved only through collaboration. Any new forest law must, therefore, aim to reduce conflicts, incentivise tribals and stop diversion for non-forest uses. This can be achieved by recognising all suitable landscapes as forests and insulating them from commercial exploitation. Such an approach requires a partnership with communities on the one hand, and scientists on the other. For decades now, the Forest Department has resisted independent scientific evaluation of forest health and biodiversity conservation outcomes. In parallel, environmental policy has weakened public scrutiny of decisions on diversion of forests for destructive activities such as mining and large dam construction. Impact assessment reports have mostly been reduced to a farce, and the public hearings process has been diluted. When a new government takes over, the entire issue should go back to the drawing board. The government needs to launch a process of consultation, beginning with the State governments to ensure that a progressive law is adopted by all States, including those that have their own versions of the existing Act. The Centre must hear the voice of all stakeholders and communities, including independent scientific experts.
  • Thiruvananthapuram, a crucible of identities

    The constituency which has been chosen by the BJP as its launchpad in Kerala is witnessing a three-way contest of Hindutva, Hinduism, and communism. Varghese K. George finds that the intense churn offers newer opportunities for political mobilisation

  • Akhilesh Babu is an unlikely dentist. At a soiree in Thiruvananthapuram, eased by single malt whiskey, he speaks of the American electoral system, Marxism, social reforms in Kerala, and contemporary politics. Though Hindu Ezhava by birth, Babu (name changed on request) even finds his way around the labyrinth of Kerala’s church history. Babu describes himself as “broadly a Leftist”, “a Dawkinsian” and a “neo-Atheist” and teaches dental science for a living. His adoration for Kerala’s communist Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, is boundless, though his support for the party is less enthusiastic. “He is a man of scientific rationality, and decisive. Many people might even see some of these attributes in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though I don’t think Modi is scientific or rational. I like Modi too. He has a sense of purpose, conviction. Both men came up against all odds,” says Babu. He wishes Modi had emphasised on the “pluralistic and inclusive” facets of Hinduism in his election campaigns. “It could be a force for good,” he adds.
  • It is Vijayan’s uncompromising stand on the entry of women into the Sabarimala shrine that reinforced Babu’s loyalty to the Chief Minister, but his cousin and host of the evening, Sindhu (name changed on request), is more muted in her observations. Growing up in a Leftist family and married to a Syrian Christian, Sindhu is observing Lent ahead of Easter. She occasionally sneaks her husband into the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in the city, reportedly the world’s richest place of worship owing to the massive gold treasure that it holds, where non-Hindus are not permitted. On this day, off alcohol, she is the victim of mansplaining, but slips this in: “Nobody should be barred from any place. But I personally do not want to go to Sabarimala as a mark of respect for the custom.”
  • Syrian Christian Dev Thomas George, 40, who lives in the city but hails from Pathanamthitta, the constituency where the Sabarimala shrine is located, describes himself as “broadly a socialist” and, if time permits, plans to drive 100 km to vote for the BJP’s K. Surendran in his home constituency. “He has 200-plus cases foisted on him by the government of Kerala. There is an element of unfairness there,” he says. “I think you have a split identity,” someone taunts him. “Indeed. I have discussed this with my psychiatrist and he thinks it is okay to be like this,” George responds, sharing with us some private information. George goes to church and is also a devotee of Ayyappa, neither of which he is fanatic about. An engineer by training, he believes in rebirth, karma, and finds the Hindu belief system more mystical and rational than Christian certitudes. He has climbed the hill several times. “In principle, I support women going to Sabarimala, but I wish the custom had evolved gradually,” he says.
  • Ravi Raman, a Communist Party of India (CPI) nominee of the Kerala Planning Board, says ruefully that Babu and George are representative of a new political culture in Kerala. “There is a distinction between democratic populism and authoritarian populism that is being lost,” he says of Babu’s comparison between Modi and Vijayan. Raman is also an ardent supporter of the Chief Minister — not for his efficiency or decisiveness, but for the politics he represents. “Efficiency and development are not politics. The question is what politics drives your development agenda,” he says.
  • Hari Kumar, a 44-year-old in Kollam, says: “Our coming of age was marked by choosing our politics — being in the SFI [Students’ Federation of India], KSU [Kerala Students Union], or whatever. Technology has replaced politics in Kerala.”
  • “Politics used to be the vehicle for aspiration and gratification. From self-respect to sex, a Malayali seeks everything these days on the handheld, and not politics,” says George, explaining how his son is more connected to American cultural trends than Kerala politics.

  • “The increasingly layered understanding of identity has made political mobilisation difficult in Kerala,” says Raman. “Politics is about privileging one identity over others in pursuit of a common goal.” From this crucible of identities, the Sangh Parivar wants to sculpt a new Kerala in the Hindutva mould, and hopes Thiruvananthapuram will be its launchpad.
  • On the Rajasekharan trail

  • “Remember the unspeakable horror of communist regimes in Poland, Cambodia and West Bengal. See the ongoing communist brutality in China and Kerala. Wake up today, wake up now,” an announcer heralds the BJP candidate, Kummanam Rajasekharan, along the narrow, snaky roads in the lumpy terrain of Kazhakoottam. “See the fake contest of the deceitful communists and the Congress who are in an embrace as soon as they cross the Western Ghats.” ‘Rajettan’, or elder brother Rajan, is unlike all of them, the announcer reassures. The 66-year-old candidate, with his snow white-hair and beard, deep eyes and feeble manner of speaking, looks and sounds more like an ideologue than a candidate fighting an election. His plea for votes is matter-of-factly. “Development, protection of faith and security — we are fighting for three issues,” he says. “The constituency is neglected. Our faith is under attack. And security involves the security of our women, our children, our community and our nation.” Kanikonna, the State flower and an integral part of the Vishu festivities, and tender coconuts greet him at every point. He may not have the wider appeal of the other ‘Rajettan’, O. Rajagopal, who came a close second in the constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, but “it is not the charisma of the candidate that is driving the BJP this time; it is ardent political support,” says Ashraf Kadakkal, a professor at Kerala University. Rajasekharan stood second in the Vattiyoorkavu constituency in the 2016 Assembly election and Rajagopal won from Nemom.
  • Rajasekharan’s campaign begins from a Dalit neighbourhood in Attipra. As the rickety pickup truck that functions as a moving dais for the candidate stutters forward, a man in his 30s with a saffron headband and a child in one arm does not let go of Rajasekharan’s hand. Eyes welling up and at a loss for words, he finally manages to let out a scream: “Win, win, we must this time!”
  • A local temple is managed by the Dalit community. Suni Chandran, a leader of the Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS), is the councillor of the city corporation from the ward. As most politically aware Dalits in Kerala, Chandran too had started as a communist — first in the CPI and then in the Communist Marxist Party (CMP), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). As a CMP member, he was part of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in 2014 and had campaigned for Shashi Tharoor, who is seeking a third term in the Lok Sabha this time. In the local body elections in 2015, Chandran became one of the 35 BJP winners in the corporation. The party is now the second biggest bloc after the Left Democratic Front (LDF), pushing the UDF to the third position in the 100-member council.
  • “We (Dalits) are ‘poster boys’ in the UDF and the LDF, as in we paste posters. We are also called upon to swell the crowd in their rallies,” Chandran says. “In the BJP, in the last four years, I feel more welcome,” he says, explaining his transition from being a communist to an elected representative of the Hindu nationalist party.
  • Behind the calm demeanour of Rajasekharan is an unwavering Hindutva proponent who left his job to become a full-time activist in the early 1980s. In 1987, he contested from the Thiruvananthapuram Assembly segment as a Hindu Munnani candidate. The district has been a fertile ground for Hindutva politics for long, and he hopes to reap the harvest this time.
  • Son of the red soil

  • Towering a little over six feet, his voice booming over the peaking vadyamelam, CPI(M) MLA C.K. Hareendran waits with about 200 others for C. Divakaran, the LDF candidate, in Parasala, 50 km short of the southern tip of India. “Tharoor is trying to make this a BJP versus Congress campaign, and consolidate all the anti-BJP votes. That is how he won last time, but this time it is not going to happen,” he says. Hareendran dismisses talks of an undercurrent of unhappiness among the party cadres over the LDF’s strident position on women’s entry into Sabarimala. “There was some mild confusion in the beginning. But once the party took a clear position and explained it, everything has fallen in place,” he says. At a booth campaign committee office of the LDF in Pangode, CPI(M) leader S. Suvarna Kumar says: “We get questions on Sabarimala from BJP-leaning voters. And we explain our politics. Not only on this but other issues too. We tell people that this entire national security frenzy of the BJP is a diversionary tactic, that we cannot alienate the people of Kashmir and claim that to be an integral part of India.”
  • CPI(M) district secretariat member N. Ratheendran takes the mic moments before ‘CD’, as the candidate is popularly known, arrives. “This is a fight for India’s future. Hindutva is trying to destroy India’s pluralism. The only credible alternative to this onslaught on our diversity is the Left. Kerala is a model of development, and it is accepted by the entire world,” he says, recalling that it was under CD’s watch (he was Food Minister of Kerala) that the State introduced the freshly cooked midday meal scheme in schools. “We have made progress and this election is to keep our State on the same course.”
  • With his head full of black hair, neatly parted and set, CD has a youthful appearance that hides his 50-year-long career. His long association with Thiruvananthapuram is trumpeted in the campaign: “He belongs to this place.” At 76, he needs a hand to climb on top of the contraption of the campaign vehicle. He takes garlands mostly by hand. As the sun gets harsher, he becomes a little tired and his hands, worn out by revolutionary politics of half a century, begin to slightly tremble. But his voice is firm as comrades offer him ‘revolutionary salutes’. “Don’t fall for the rumours. We are winning with a huge majority,” he tells small gatherings of 50 to 100 people at every point. He says to The Hindu: “By the time we began participating in parliamentary politics, other parties that were early movers had captured the system. That is a historical disadvantage of the communist movement.” After the radical strides in the early years of communism in the State, only incremental progress could be made within the limits of mass politics in Kerala, he thinks. But believers and the communists have made a great coalition along the way, he says. “Our comrades are active in temple festivals, their upkeep. There is no friction between believers and communists anywhere.”
  • Hindu against Hindutva

  • Shashi Tharoor spends more time giving autographs and posing for selfies than asking for votes. He wears summer colours, a breach of the Congress’s tradition of wearing stiff whites. His Hindu identity, he wears on his sleeve. “Despite the flaws in some of its practices, my admiration for and pride in Hinduism outweighs my critical concerns, and I make no apology for this,” he wrote in his recent book, Why I Am A Hindu. During campaigning, he ended up with a wound that required nine stitches during a thulabharam — the ritual of weighing oneself against temple offerings — when the heavy steel balance fell on his head. His faith does not prevent him from participating in Christian or Muslim worship — he sang ‘Silent Night’ at a carol service and its video went viral last year. Tharoor has aligned with the devotees on the Sabarimala controversy and questions the BJP’s intentions on the issue.
  • In Kovalam, Tharoor presents his politics as a counter-manifesto to Hindutva. “On 23rd, your vote will decide two things — who is your MP, who is your PM. Who rules India matters, and we saw what happened in the last five years. What are our values? Our ethos? Do we want an inclusive, just country?” From then on, he just says one sentence after the photo-ops: “Vote for the hand, Jai Hind.”
  • More than the readers of his books, it is the rural folks who drove Tharoor’svictory in 2014. Tharoor scored the highest in Kovalam. In Assembly segments that are more urban — Kazhakoottam, Vattiyoorkavu, Thiruvananthapuram and Nemom — Tharoor trailed BJP’s Rajagopal, and the CPI candidate was pushed to the third position. In the coastal segments of Parassala, Kovalam and Neyyattinkara, Tharoor won. The BJP was pushed to the third position, as the CPI candidate came second.
  • At Vizhinjam, a communally sensitive beach village, separated by a strip of no man’s land, the Latin Catholic and Muslim hamlets could potentially unite in their support for Tharoor. A new port under construction, a massive mosque and an imposing church overlook the village. If the BJP were to outperform itself in the four Assembly segments that are its strongholds, Tharoor will have to mop up more votes along the seaboard, in villages such as this.
  • But the BJP is not leaving that field open. Danny J. Paul, the party’s minority morcha head, has been leading a special campaign in the coastal areas since the last election and focussing on minority communities. BJP campaigners have reached all 170 booths in coastal Thiruvananthapuram, and nearly 30 corner meetings have been held. The considerable number of Left cadres will vote politically, which means that they will await instruction from the party.
  • In the midst of this organised work of the Sangh Parivar and the LDF, Tharoor’s campaign has to fight the lethargy — if not active sabotage — of the Congress apparatus before he takes on his opponents. His global persona and wider popularity in the constituency are resented by entrenched interests within the Congress, but those are his greatest assets too. After a shake-up involving a visit by AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik to the city, there is fresh vigour in campaigning, but whether it will be sufficient to deny the BJP its first Lok Sabha victory in Kerala is an open question. “There was an initial lull in campaigning but now it is in full steam,” says B.S. Shiju, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Developmental Studies, a Congress-affiliated think tank in the city.
  • In moments of intense churn, reading the public mood can be difficult. “The urban voters are willing to be swayed. They can change their political preferences easier than the rural folks,” says Dimpi V. Divakaran, Director General of the Institute of Parliamentary Affairs in Thiruvananthapuram.
  • The three political streams are trying to match their understanding of the situation in a triangular contest that is unique in the country in this election.
  • Left, Right, Congress

    The contest in the temple town of Pathanamthitta

  • “You are here not because of me, and I know that. This land is the sacred place of Lord Ayyappa,” K. Surendran, the BJP’s candidate in Pathanamthitta in south Kerala, says to a gathering in Aranmula, a village famous for its temple; the Aranmula mirror, which is crafted out of a metal alloy; and an annual boat race in river Pampa.
  • Surendran is the face of the Sangh Parivar agitation against women entering the forest shrine of Sabarimala, located in the constituency. This is the second seat besides Thiruvananthapuram that the BJP is focussing on. Veena George, a TV anchor-turned-MLA from Aranmula, who managed to woo a significant segment of Christians to the Left in the Assembly election, is the Chief Minister’s chosen candidate for the Lok Sabha. The Congress’s Anto Antony is seeking a third term.
  • Wearing a black shirt in an open vehicle in Kerala’s April weather is punishing, but this is symbolism that Surendran cannot forgo — devotees climb to the Sabarimala temple clad fully in black.
  • “Here comes a candidate who does not see religion or caste in people,” the pilot vehicle introduces the candidate. How does his politics, focussed entirely on the Sabarimala issue, square with this statement? “Muslims and Christians support our stand in large numbers. In fact, they run most businesses around the pilgrimage. We are winning this time,” he says.
  • A roadside shop along the convoy’s route reads: ‘Best quality beef sold here.’ Women and men alike in the Hindu-dominated panchayat shower petals and sing vanchipattu — folk songs that are usually sung during boat races. The shop beckons.