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Pastor plea ‘sting’ on Tharoor

Thiruvananthapuram, April 7: The BJP and the Left in Kerala have approached the state election commission over a sting by a news channel that shows Shashi Tharoor purportedly soliciting votes of Pentecostal Christians from a group of pastors at a “secret” meeting in his home.

In their petitions, the parties said it amounted to appealing for votes in the name of religion and sought the Union minister’s disqualification.

According to Reporter TV that aired the purported sting, the meeting was convened at Tharoor’s flat in Vazhuthacaud in the Kerala capital. Although his face is not visible in the purported clip, a voice, which sounds like that of the Congress MP, is heard requesting the Church leaders to advise their followers on worship day (Sunday) not to remain complacent but to “go out and vote” for him.

Thiruvananthapuram, which along with the rest of Kerala votes on April 10, is witnessing a triangular contest. Tharoor, the sitting MP, is pitted against O. Rajagopal of the BJP and the Left-backed Bennet P. Abraham.

Abraham, a former treasurer of the Church of South India, is a Nadar Christian. This section accounts for a sizeable chunk of voters in the Kerala capital, which is why it’s all the more important for Tharoor to try and consolidate the votes of other Christian sections.

The minister is also heard telling the pastors to spread the message that he was a “victim” of the controversy surrounding his wife Sunanda’s death earlier this year.

Till late this evening, Tharoor had not reacted to the allegation levelled by his rivals. But MLA K. Muraleedharan, whose presence at the flat was also recorded by the purported tape, said: “Nothing big, as is being made out, happened there.”

“I just happened to be there when they (the pastors) came to see the minister to submit a representation that they were not getting mike permits to hold meetings,” Muraleedharan told The Telegraph. “I left soon after.”

In the English transcript of the tape, which is in Malayalam, the voice of the person alleged to be Tharoor, is heard saying: “…What you should tell people… if there is a Left MP, it is only going to help Narendra Modi…. In our country, Left has no relevance in national politics. It’s the gap between (the) UPA and (the) NDA which is going to decide government formation…. Which is why I say, helping a Left MP (candidate) is like voting for the BJP.”

One of the pastors expresses confidence in the MP’s return to office. “Don’t say that because, in our calculation, the situation is tight,” the voice, alleged to be that of Tharoor, replies. “To be true, I’m leading in only two (Assembly) constituencies — Thiruvananthapuram and Vattiyoorkkavu. Neyyattinkara and Parassala — they are leading. Kazhakkoottam and Nemom are very tight. In such a situation, even if I win, it will be only by 10,000-20,000 votes. Unless we persuade the people to go out and vote, it will be difficult. Tomorrow is Sunday. When you talk to people, tell them to exercise their right to vote.”

Seven Assembly segments, including these six, make up the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. Tharoor had won the seat last time by two votes short of a lakh.

A pastor who addresses the gathering before Tharoor enters the scene in the purported clip is heard saying that some of them had met the chief minister a few days ago. “The chief minister told us we should tell pastors to go out and vote because if Christians vote, 90 per cent would vote only for the Congress. But the problem is not all of us go to vote.”