Buoyed by the response it got in the recently held elections to the Kerala Assembly, the BJP is already drawing up a grand strategy in the southern state with an eye on the general elections in 2019. Keeping this in mind, party president Amit Shah, who was in Thiruvananthapuram for a post-poll review meeting of the NDA, made an impromptu visit to Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala, about 50 km from here. Set up in the early 20th century by the great social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, the mutt is the spiritual abode of his followers, the powerful backward Ezhava community. That is the place of the great Guru’s samadhi too.
Though the BJP claimed it was purely an “uninvited” courtesy call, Shah’s visit has gained much political significance in the wake of the party’s alliance with the mercurial Ezhava leader Vellappally Natesan and his political outfit Bharat Dharma Jana Sena and the subsequent performance of the NDA in the elections. Natesan is a persona non grata here and the swamis who run the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham Trust which controls the mutt had made this clear in the past. The Trust has made it a point to keep a clear distance from Natesan and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangham, the socio-cultural body which he heads. Vellappally and the swamis at the Trust have crossed swords many a time since Natesan started using SNDP for his and his family’s monetary and, of late, political gains. Ironically, it is the swamis who hoisted Natesan there and gave him the control of Sree Narayana Trust, which runs over a hundred educational institutions across the state. This is the goose that lays golden eggs which is meant for the uplift of the community, but is now a family-owned enterprise of the Natesans.
With Natesan’s son and BDJS president Tushar Vellappally tagging along with Shah to the mutt it was far too obvious that the visit was meant to smoothen ruffled feathers between the swamis and the father-son duo. Shah did not disappoint the swamis. The Trust while affirming the visit was apolitical has admitted that Shah did promise to set up a medical college at the mutt and offered a Rs 1,000 crore Sivagiri development package for the ashram. This will include Rs 500 crore to set up an International Sree Narayana Museum, a long-standing demand. It has also been unofficially stated that the Trivandrum International Airport will soon be named after the Guru, which will no doubt gladden the swamis’ hearts. But in the past too many governments headed from Indira Gandhi to Atal Behari Vajpayee had promised such things to tap the vote bank but did nothing concrete. Incidentally, Indira Gandhi had even worn a yellow sari on her visit to the mutt in the 1970s, yellow being the colour of garments the Guru wore in his lifetime and his followers still wear. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too had visited the mutt in last December, but refrained from making any promises. Insiders feel that Shah’s promises however carry more credence because of his closeness to Modi and the Central government.
Natesan and son may not have delivered his Ezhava community’s votes to the expected level, but the NDA has every reason to rejoice over the alliance. Not only did it help the BJP open its account in the Assembly for the first time since the formation of the state, but NDA’s vote share also went to over 15.5%, a considerable jump. This is the first time that the combine has secured 20,000 odd votes in more than 80 of the 140 constituencies in the state. Moreover they have succeeded in bringing disparate, wrangling sub-sects of the majority community under its umbrella. This “Nayadis to Namboodiris” slogan is what the party will be trying to consolidate in the next two years. For which Amit Shah and the state leadership have to keep Natesan in good humour and keep the Marxists at bay. It is all too clear now that in this election, Ezhavas, by and large, despite efforts by Natesan and company stuck with the communists, proving political pundits completely wrong. However, the BJP has succeeded in cutting into the Ezhava support base of the Congress, which turned out to be too costly for the national party. With Congress still in a daze, it is quite natural that Shah, knowing his political shrewdness, will train his guns on the CPM and the new Left Front government headed by a typical communist bureaucrat, Pinarayi Vijayan, whose body language is still that of a party secretary, not of a Chief Minister.
Just in one month’s time after the new government took charge there have been incidents of intimidation from both sides, especially in communally polarised north Kerala. Both CPM and RSS will try to capitalise most on this. The new Chief Minister, through his public statements, is not helping much to calm tempers; nor are some of the Central ministers who seem to be in too much of a hurry to please the Prime Minister. Both being cadre-based parties, Kerala might witness more such violent incidents. With the Congress leadership in a limbo still looking for manna from the high command, battle lines in Kerala seem to be drawn between the BJP and CPM. This is going to be a very pleasing scenario for party president Amit Shah and RSS ideologue and state BJP chief Kummanom Rajashekharan to work on.