New strategy: For the second time, BJP keeps Kerala yatra on hold

New strategy: For the second time, BJP keeps Kerala yatra on hold

By Santosh Kumar | NEW DELHI | 10 September, 2017
President Ram Nath Kovind administers oath to Alphons Kannanthanam, at a swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi last Sunday. IANS
Party insiders have confided that the central leadership wants the local leadership to set things right before taking out the yatra.

The induction of a Malayali in the Narendra Modi government at the Centre has come as a welcome relief to the troubled/besieged unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the southern state of Kerala, where the party is hoping to reap a good electoral harvest by 2019. The central leadership of the party has sprung a surprise by appointing former bureaucrat K.J. Alphons, a comparatively new entrant to the party, as Union Minister for Tourism. In fact, there was not much talk of any party leader from the state getting a berth in Delhi, perhaps the last chance before the general elections hardly two years away, though some seasoned leaders may have hoped to get the nod. If at all anyone gets a chance, everyone thought it would be state party president Kummanam Rajasekharan. In fact, party president Amit Shah, during his last visit to the state, had categorically told the local leadership not to expect any rewards from the Centre unless they could deliver results, meaning Lok Sabha seats. That must have dampened the spirits of many a leader from the state. So when news of Alphons reached the state capital, it failed to enthuse the state leadership, though some sheepishly reacted that they had personally congratulated Kannanthanam Alphons rather than issue a press statement. Only party state president Kummanam Rajasekharan issued a statement a day later. “Alphons joined the BJP fed up with the corrupt ways of the Left and the Congress. This is an Onam gift to the people of Kerala and an appreciation for his various positions he has taken,” Rajasekharan said in the statement. Alphons was one time considered a Left co-traveller, having been elected to the state Assembly as an Independent backed by the Left Democratic Front led by CPM. 

As is the case now, his crossing over to the BJP in 2011 had embarrassed the Marxists considerably, especially the current Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, with whom Alphons still keeps a cordial relationship.  Whether or not the induction of a rank outsider into the Union Cabinet is a snub to the state BJP leadership, many believe that it has sent out a signal to the state leadership to set things right in the Kerala unit. This possibility carries more weight than the argument that the party may be hoping to woo Christians through the appointment of Alphons. Partially, the party may be hoping to influence Christian voters, but what Amit Shah would be looking forward to is a healthier organisational set up in the state before the general elections. The recent leaking of a party internal enquiry report into certain allegations of corruption regarding admission to a medical college and the resultant fallout on the overall image of the party is a matter of concern with the party Central leadership. Add to this the factional feud between two former presidents of the party, which has now come out in the open. At a recent meeting of the RSS, which, in fact, guides the party, of which the present president Kummanam originally belongs to, the parent organisation has reportedly sought disciplinary action against at least 47 leaders at various levels. This has been done after verifying a number of complaints received from local to the state level, of which action is being taken against 47 leaders.  Moreover, a close watch will be kept on those party workers who tend to misuse authority in the name of “influence in Delhi”. Intra party assessment is that such a move will only strengthen the party apparatus, rather than send out wrong signals to the cadre and sympathisers in the state. This “cleansing mission” is cited as the main reason for the postponement, not once but twice, of the much publicised Janraksh Yatra led by Kummanam Rajasekharan against “red-jihadi terror” in the state. The programme had been finalised with former state president, V. Muraleedharan, who is heading one of the factions within the party, as the convenor of the yatra. Various committees had also been set up for the purpose. Party president Amit Shah and a host of BJP’s 15 Chief Ministers and Union ministers were supposed to attend the yatra, billed as a showpiece event. 

Even party heavyweight Arun Jaitley’s hurried trip to Thiruvananthapuram recently was considered as a build-up to the yatra. It was supposed to begin from Payyannur in the strife-torn Kannur district on 7 September and end in Thiruvananthapuram on 23rd.  The yatra was supposed to spend three days in Kannur alone, with Amit Shah in the lead on all three days. Though the reason for the cancellation of the yatra is given as the busy schedule of Shah, especially Cabinet reshuffle at the Centre, party insiders confide that the central leadership wants the local leadership to set things right before taking out such a yatra. The postponement, twice, of such a widely publicised event may not be in the interest of the party for the time being, but the central leadership is reportedly looking at it from a long term view point.

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