"A few months before her passing, Sunanda told me that if she died, I would be able to reap the sympathy wave. It has been the opposite, I have been vilified by many for her death. She had been ill but she was planning to spend two months campaigning for me. Now I have to go it alone." In his consitutency, Congress sitting MP and minister for human resource development, Shashi Tharoor's is like a man possessed. His jeep top campaign starts in the early morning and ends late at night. One of the abiding images on the campaign trail is that of the Congress symbol, in bright red, like bloodied handprints on the walls. The Communists comrades must be having a bit of a laugh about that.
Tharoor, fresh as a daisy in the withering heat and humidity, shakes hands with the little groups of people gathered in small junctions, accepts shawls and showers sweets on children. Making the same short sharp speech about his achievements, it is a quick rub of hand sanitiser and then on to the next venue. He has brought nine trains stops to the constituency which has really helped the techies in the city from having to undertake a long and tortuous commute.
In front of the candy pink and parrot green homes in the winding alleys and lanes, women clad in the ubiquitous 'nightie' a sartorial horror peculiar to Kerala and thorthus ( handwoven towels) thrown round their shoulders melt into star struck giggles at the sight of Tharoor. Swigging jeera pani, the candidate extends his hand to them, sending the ladies into further paroxysms of delight. Clearly, they have not been put off by the controversy around Sunanda Pushkar's death.
Now and again, the candidate leaps nimbly off the jeep and sinks into deep prayer in the tiny temples which dot his passage. The Shiva cutout in the middle of the fetid pond nearby seems to look on approvingly. In his speech, he says that he does not want to appeal to caste or religion, he leaves that to his opponents. The main one is O Rajagopal of the BJP, a veteran politician and reportedly a man of impeccable integrity. The 85-year-old veteran is also on the campaign trail but seems to attract only a straggly crowd here and there. The other candidate from the CPI Bennett Abraham has a strong following in the Nadar community, which has a notable presence in this largely rural constituency.
Tharoor sees no Modi wave, and indeed there is no sign of any such upsurge barring a few posters of the BJP's star. "I have been the victim of a relentless smear campaign. But I say to everyone who flings mud at me that quite a bit sticks to your own hands and under your fingernails." He says that he is in constant touch with his late wife's son who lives in Dubai. I hope to go and see him after this and then onto to New York to see my own sons."