Sabarimala will be a major factor in how people vote: Shashi Tharoor interview

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Shashi Tharoor says he is ready to be Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who has won from the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha Constituency in two consecutive elections, during 2009 and in 2014, is looking for a third victory. As the 2019 elections approach, the constituency is all set to witness a triangular contest between Shashi Tharoor, NDA's Kummanam Rajasekharan and LDF's C Divakaran, all major names in their respective parties. Ahead of the polls, TNM posed 4 questions to Tharoor, for which he has given detailed replies.

1) Do you think the Sabarimala issue will be a major factor which will determine the way people vote this time?

It certainly will and in large part because the believers have a legitimate reason to be aggrieved not just because of the Supreme Court decision itself (which is under review) but also because of the manner in which both the BJP and the Left have misled the people and have desecrated a sacred place of worship by converting it into a staging ground for unseemly political theatre. The hypocrisy is indeed mutual— The BJP, which claims to care about the believers, could have easily found a solution to the problem and provided relief to the anguished worshippers by getting their own central government to issue an ordinance to nullify the Court’s verdict or by introducing legislation to that effect in either the previous Winter or Budget Session. This they have not done.

At the very least, the BJP could have joined the 55 petitioners, including the Indian National Congress, who submitted a review petition in the Supreme Court but even here, the BJP did not bother to do so. Only 1 petitioner in this list is currently loosely affiliated to the BJP but the party itself has not submitted a petition. Based on their lack of action is clear that the reason BJP leaders have not sought such a remedy (or introduced a legislative corrective) is that they do not want to solve the crisis in a hurry. In the words of their own party president Sreedharan Pillai, to them, the Sabarimala issue is a ‘golden opportunity’ to polarise the community for electoral benefit. A fever-pitch of emotion on the streets and repeated television images of protesting believers is far more useful to them than actually solving the problem.

Similarly, the Left has tried to create a political drama from this issue. They could have prevented the crisis if it had chosen to take measured steps to discuss the implementation of the Court order with stakeholders, including respected and representative civil society organisations, like the NSS and the SNDP. But they too would prefer the drama to continue to seize state since they too hope a polarised society will help them electorally. The concerns of the people of the state, particularly that of the faithful, have consequently been sandwiched in between the cynical politics of both these two parties. That needs to stop and beyond the elections, the Congress is committed towards finding an effective solution--- one that balances constitutional principles but at the same time, protects and safeguards the religious autonomy of the believers.

2) What are the major issues that you would be taking up/addressing during your election campaigning ?

I am campaigning on the strength of the strong development agenda I have brought to the city in my 10 years as the MP of Thiruvananthapuram and on the basis of a sincere commitment towards the people of the city to be an able and effective voice for them at the national stage. While there are many issues that I will be engaging with, let me highlight a few significant focus areas.

For one, there is a need to fulfill the vision I expressed under UPA of making Thiruvananthapuram a ‘knowledge city’, developing an ecosystem of research institutes and educational institutions that will feed off each other to create a true knowledge hub in the state capital. At the same time, there are more down-to-earth concerns like the major problem of drinking water, of which there is an extreme shortage at the moment.  I am committed to developing a strong, modern and equitable drinking water plan, one that in particularly leverages existing Central government schemes such as AMRUT and the Big Lakes Programmes which we can utilise to rejuvenate major freshwater sources as well as smaller ponds in the city towards ensuring a greater supply of clean drinking water to the residents.

Ensuring a suitable environment for job generation and providing greater employment options in the city is another area that I am strongly committed towards.

But to ensure that we are successful in this regard, we also have to ensure that we have world-class facilities, particularly connectivity in the city. To this end, I am also committed to ensuring the time-bound and successful completion of our major infrastructure projects like the NH Bypasss and the Vizhinjam seaport as well as lobbying for greater air connectivity to our airport. I have also committed to developing an integrated connectivity hub in the city—bringing together the airport, seaport, railways and our major roads -- so as to ensure that we meet the need for greater convenience and comfort for the residents of the city.

We simply need to do better to improve our civic infrastructure if we are to be able to progress and become an internationally heralded world class city.

3) Why do you think the people of TVM should/will vote for you ? And what are the factors do you think will lead to your victory in TVM ?

When casting their vote on April 23,the residents of Thiruvananthapuram will have to make their choice on the key question that drives the election: Who can be their best voice in New Delhi? Who can ensure that their apprehensions, afflictions and aspirations can be raised clearly and effectively not just in Parliament but within the highest levels of the executive at the Centre and if required internationally? I believe that in my two terms as the MP for the city, I have sufficiently demonstrated that I am the most suitable candidate in that regard. As the MP for the city, major infrastructure projects such as the NH Bypass (which was dormant for nearly 40 years after the foundation stone was laid in 1971) were revived and pursued actively due to my persistent and vigorous efforts. Similarly, the Vizhinjam International Transhipment Port project -- another example of a project that was at a standstill until I reinvigorated the process by persuading Gautam Adani personally to bid -- is also progressing well. I continue to follow it closely as a Director on the Board of VISL (Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd), and will push for the development of ancillary facilities in the port areas, such a cruise terminal, a fish-processing plant and a Marine Academy.

That in these 10 years, I have ably served constituency and to the best of my capabilities, been an effective voice for my constituents at the national stage.

4) How do you see this contest in Thiruvananthapuram, considering the fact that both C Divakaran and Kummanam Rajashekaran are major names in their respective parties? Is it a matter of concern for you that the votes might get divided here ?

Both Kummanam Rajashekaran and C Divakaran are senior leaders and are well respected within their respective parties. But at the same time one could argue that neither have the necessary experience or even the demonstrated ambition to be an effective voice for the city. Kummanam for instance does not have a single popular electoral win to his credit and hasn’t spent too much time in the city. His term as the Governor for Mizoram was also rather uneventful so questions are naturally raised when it comes to his capability as an able administrator and whether he is in sync with the needs and demands of this city. Divakaran on the other hand has been a MLA for a few terms but even so, the demands of the office of an MP are considerably different and whether he has the capacity and capability to meet the diverse needs of the city, remains to be seen. As a result, while I am sure it will be a good contest I am not unduly concerned about votes getting divided and I am confident that the voters of Thiruvananthapuram, who have supported me for the last 10 years will once again repose their faith in me and give me the opportunity to be their voice at the national stage.