The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala is on a massive headhunting spree. Sure, it was not quite as openly done as the recently concluded Indian Premier League player auction. But there is no arguing that people from various walks of life — this time with winning prospects for the upcoming assembly polls — are under scrutiny of the ‘mergers & acquisitions’ unit of the BJP central team.
The process has started yielding results. The latest to join the party — and by far the most credible one — is E Sreedharan, known as ‘Metro Man’ for his leadership of the Delhi Metro.
Sreedharan’s entry into the BJP has caught the imagination of both the mainstream and social media alike, as he carries the image of development personified. That said, fighting it out in an assembly constituency, for which the octogenarian has voiced his readiness, will be no cakewalk. The realpolitik of adding up the numbers in an electorate divided by caste, community and other elements of loyalty is a different ball game altogether.
Meanwhile, the winning chances of former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair, former DGPs TP Senkumar and Jacob Thomas in a triangular political battle when pitted against political candidates from the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front, are open to debate. When it comes to the candidacy and winning of AP Abdullakutty, there isn’t such a doubt. Till 2009, Abdullakutty was a diehard CPI(M) leader from Kannur, before he switched over to the Congress. In 2019, he left the Congress to join the BJP, and is now a national vice-president of the party.
So far, when it comes to power and postings, the BJP leadership in Kerala has had to rely on the benevolence of the central leadership. Since 2014 the Narendra Modi government has seen two politicians from Kerala making it to the Union Cabinet: Alphons Kannanthanam from September 2017 to May 2019 as Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology and Minister of State for Tourism with independent charge. The second is V Muraleedharan, who since May 2019 is Minister of State for External Affairs and also as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs. The other sops for BJP’s Kerala unit has included two governorships in Mizoram — first to Kummanam Rajasekharan and then to PS Sreedharan Pillai, both former state unit presidents.
Actor-politician Suresh Gopi is another big ticket acquisition for the BJP in Kerala. Gopi is currently a Rajya Sabha MP. Other leaders from the state unit have not been so lucky, and have spent much time squabbling among themselves.
Yet, there is only so much Delhi can give to the state leadership in anticipation of at least a decent show in the polls. Apart from a couple of close finishes and the lone assembly seat won by former Union minister of state O Rajagopal, the central leadership would be expecting a whole lot more this time by way of return on investment.
Given this, the state leadership may be only too willing to leave the onus of candidate selection to the central leadership, many of whom could be public faces the party convinces to contest under its symbol.
With a little over a month to go before the polls, the usual National Democratic Alliance allies, such as the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), are barely in the frame. Barring any last minute surprises, it appears the BJP will be ploughing a lonely path, and in the event of a poor show, the current crop of state leaders would be wary of being labelled non-performing assets.
However, it would be foolhardy to ignore or side line the saffron party and its electioneering prowess. For a party that has managed to woo leaders from the Congress in almost every other state, Kerala will be keenly watching BJP’s endgame that has often yielded rich results elsewhere.
With Sreedharan’s entry the media is abuzz, and there is speculation that more such announcements are in store — with a possibility of a structural revamp of the BJP state unit by getting a big political leader in the state to switch sides, one that would really shake up the political equation in Kerala.
There is also speculation that the BJP could strike a deal with the CPI(M) by leveraging the gold smuggling case to ensure a few winning seats across the state.
Clearly, the BJP cannot afford to stop with Sreedharan.