Having saturated its organic growth model, the Kerala BJP will be forced to seek more electoral allies, and should do this before the 2021 assembly polls.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been doing it for some time now, hand-picking one representative after the other to be the face of Kerala in the Union Cabinet. From O Rajagopal and PC Thomas to Alphons Kannamthanam and now V Muraleedharan, this process has come with the inevitable sense of déjà vu each time a new incumbent has got named by the Delhi think-tank. Even their route to Delhi has been uniform — via the Rajya Sabha — the only aberration to the rule being Thomas.
Surprisingly, the religious scorecard reads two each in favour of the Hindu and Christian communities. The fine print within the Hindu flank shows the Nair leader of yesteryear has now been replaced by an Ezhava leader from the present crop. In Muraleedharan, Prime Minster Narendra Modi has also picked a die-hard loyalist who has been religiously translating his speeches for a number of years.
Muraleeji, as he is likely to be addressed, is as much at ease with Hindi as he is with his mother-tongue, thanks to his stints as all-India general secretary and state organising secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
As the man responsible the opening up of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to the likes of the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), Muraleeedharan is widely expected to play a more open role in expanding the BJP base in Kerala over the next five years. This is easier said than done, as it will require some tight-rope walking, given the evident rift between the upper caste and the lower caste in Kerala. Thus the BJP’s strife for power will only get more accentuated in the coming days. That is, unless, the newly-anointed minister of state decides to let sleeping dogs lie and not rake up the need for a change of guard at helm for the state BJP.
The political pundits had spun all kinds of motives when Kummanam Rajasekharan was bundled out of the state party president’s seat for governorship in distant Mizoram. There was more intrigue in the air as he was brought back to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, surrendering a good four years left of his governorship. It was also checkmate for erstwhile state BJP president PK Krishna Das who had been harbouring hopes about the capital seat. Nor has anyone forgotten how K Surendran replaced the incumbent state BJP chief Sreedharan Pillai from contesting from Pathanamthitta.
Now, if Surendran, a staunch supporter and favourite of Muraleedharan, were to replace Pillai as the state president, then it could well translate into an open war between the Nairs and the Ezhavas for control of the state machinery. At least, that is how some of the senior Nair community leaders assess the situation.
Understandably, the pacifists are pitching for a conciliatory move, to ensure it is status quo ante that prevails. This precisely is the existential problem for the BJP in Kerala — the fight for dominance between the higher and lower communities.
Having drawn blank in its attempts to woo the Christians in the past and its experiments with the higher caste Hindus having failed to deliver the goods, it is back to the drawing board for the state BJP machinery. Chipping away at the Ezhava vote bank, which has for decades been with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) rank and file, is going to be no easy task.
Unlike elsewhere in India, the Hindu vote bank in Kerala doesn’t always get swayed by the BJP. This seeming anomaly was visible when the Sabarimala issue became a pot-boiler. To the dismay of the central BJP leadership, the basic Hindu sentiment though reawakened by the hill shrine impasse did not strictly yield dividends to the BJP alone. Even more bemusing for them was the fact that the winner of this game of thrones in Pathanamthitta (the district where Sabarimala is located) was Anto Anthony, a Christian candidate of the Congress.
Therefore, having run rough-shod over caste politics in the Hindi heartland and even some parts of south India by successfully using the key called religion, the BJP may now be required to tweak its formula to suit the caste arithmetic in Kerala. Having saturated its organic growth model, the state BJP will be forced to seek more electoral allies, some of them hitherto untested waters, as the bugle call is less than two years away — the 2021 assembly polls.
All things considered, the central leadership may be losing its patience with the Kerala unit — and with that the sell-by-date of some of the present crop of leaders more a probability than a vague possibility.Vinod Mathew is a senior journalist based in Kochi. Views are personal. Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.