The mid-campaign assessment on the prospects of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Assembly elections in Kerala by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is not very comforting for the two main contenders for power, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and its rival, the Left Democratic Front (LDF). While UDF and LDF are yet to make such a review and are busy attacking each other while skirting major issues, the Sangh Parivar has fanned out its cadre in all the constituencies and is set to give a tough time to the two hitherto popular fronts.
The RSS believes that in at least 69 of the 140 Assembly constituencies in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party combine will force a three-cornered contest. It also thinks that the party’s strategic alliance with the newly formed Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) of the Ezhavas will stand them in good stead, especially in central Kerala; as well as the decision of Kerala’s Adivasi mascot, C.K. Janu to cast her lot with the NDA and contest the election. The RSS leadership calculates that the NDA will be able to corner 20% of the votes—that is over 30,000 votes in these 69 constituencies. Though the claim that the NDA could bag up to 18 seats appears too ambitious at this stage, that it will sway the final outcome is certain. With its star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of Central ministers scheduled to launch their campaigns in the first week of May, the mood is upbeat in the BJP camp.
The RSS, which is spearheading the NDA campaign in the state, has set aside all other day-to-day work and is out on the field to seize the opportunity. There are about 5,400 RSS shakhas in the state. There is one prabhat (morning) shakha for elders, sayam (evening) shakha for students and for the employed there is a night shakha. There is one shakha exclusively for IT personnel, called IT Milan. The sayam and night shakhas have been given holidays for electioneering. Rather than big rallies, the RSS is trying to reach as many voters as possible, individually, through house-to-house campaign.
While the BJP manifesto will be formally released only this weekend, it is known that the party will promise to work for total prohibition, a contentious issue in the state, in the next five years.
It will also pledge to undertake a second land reforms movement (the first was during the Communist government in 1957), thereby providing land to the landless if voted to power. Interestingly, in these 60 years, alternate UDF and LDF governments have not undertaken such an effort, despite promising to do so every time.
Instead of giving land to the landless, the current Congress-led Oommen Chandy government has the dubious distinction of handing over hectares to the land mafia—from a fake sanyasi to rich industrialists. The Chandy government, which passed some 800-odd orders before the electoral code of conduct came into effect in early March, had to cancel many of these, mainly involving land deals, following an outcry from environmentalists and even state Congress president, V.M. Sudheeran.
The RSS believes that in at least 69 of the 140 Assembly constituencies in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party combine will force a three-cornered contest. The RSS leadership calculates that the NDA will be able to corner 20% of the votes—that is over 30,000 votes in these 69 constituencies.
Another major promise by the BJP is jobs to all Adivasi youths who have passed SSLC, especially in the light of Janu joining the front. Keeping in mind the BDJS, the front intends to start a housing scheme for the homeless in the name of Sree Narayana Guru. And there will be a student scholarship scheme in the name of Mannathu Padmanabhan, the great Nair reformer.
Since the best bet for the NDA will be central Kerala, other than some pockets in the northern districts of Palakkad, it will be interesting to see how much it can woo the Christian and Nair votes there, of course assuming that a major chunk of the Ezhava vote in the region will be in its bag following the alliance with BDJS. Here, too, one has to wait and see how the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) and its mercurial general secretary, Vellappalli Natesan can influence the community, now that he claims that it would hurt both UDF and LDF. Traditionally, Christians and Nairs decide what central Kerala should decide.
However, this time there is no clarity on how the Christians will vote, though certain powerful bishops claim that their support base will be shared equally among the UDF and LDF candidates.
Here, too, the setback to Kerala Congress led by K.M. Mani will play a role, since many of the dissenters belong to various sects of the Christian community. The NDA might stand to gain the fisher-folk’s votes. The Church has so far not come out with a pastoral note.
But the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, at its 32nd plenary in Bangalore early March has identified “narrow, unitary cultural nationalism…widespread intolerance…a systematic concerted effort to manipulate the education system” as the main challenges faced by the community. CBCI president, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, however, made it clear at that time that “this is our pastoral plan and not a political manifesto”.
But the Nair Service Society (NSS), the socio-religious organisation of the Nairs, with 14% of the 54.7% Hindu vote, claims to maintain equidistance from all political parties.
But there are many instances when it tried to browbeat both the Congress and Communists. The way NSS forced Oomen Chandy and the Congress to induct the then state party president, Ramesh Chennithala into the Cabinet with the key home portfolio, was a classic case to cite.
Unlike various Christian sabhas, the NSS doesn’t have much hold over the community; though the NSS’ present bombastic general secretary, Sukumaran Nair, may disagree.
He was at the receiving end of a bitter joke not long ago for describing himself as the Pope of Perunna, a smaller version of the Vatican, headquarters of the Society in central Changanassery.
But the Society is the flame that attracts all and sundry Hindu politicians, adding to its aura, and the community has considerable vote share in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Kollam and Kottayam districts. Interestingly, the current state secretary of the BJP, RSS ideologue Kummanam Rajashekharan, has an excellent rapport with the Society and Sukumaran Nair in particular. This may come in handy since these are the districts that NDA is banking on to better its performance, hoping that the lotus will bloom.
The BDJS too has its roots well entrenched. But it is not an easy task to draw a definite conclusion as how the voters would react, considering the peculiar situation in the state.
After all, this is the first time that a “third front” has emerged on the scene, giving both UDF and LDF the jitters.