Will the growth of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala be at the expense of the Indian National Congress? This has become a hotly contested political issue in Kerala, where the BJP opened its account in last May’s Assembly elections for the first time since the formation of the state in 1957. Kerala, perhaps the last bastion of the communists, has religiously voted either the CPM-led Left Democratic Front or the Congress-led United Democratic Front in every Assembly election. Kerala figures prominently in BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadmap to a second term in power in New Delhi. According to BJP sources, travel plans have been chalked out for both the leaders to visit the state regularly henceforth, though it is part of a larger game plan to capture 120 seats encompassing all the four southern states, Odisha and West Bengal, besides the Northeast. It is in this backdrop that the news that four senior leaders in Kerala are set to leave Congress and join the BJP, gained currency in the state, creating quite a flutter in political circles. Those who tend to believe in it point to a statement by senior Congress leader A.K. Antony during a visit to the state recently. Antony at that time had warned party members to be wary of those who masquerade as Congressmen during the daytime and work for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at night. But curiously enough, it was the interim president of the Pradesh Congress Committee, M.M. Hassan, who gave some sort of credence to the rumours floating in the air. Reacting to newspersons’ queries on speculation about four senior leaders, including Shashi Tharoor talking to the BJP leadership, Hassan said he had checked the veracity of the news with Tharoor himself, who, naturally, had denied any such move. That Hassan chose to speak on the subject in Malappuram where a byelection was being held, is interesting. Since only Tharoor’s name came up, there was an immediate clamour from the CPM to reveal the other names too. State party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s overdrive is quite understandable, given the political scenario in the state.
Tharoor was prompt in coming out with a denial. In his Facebook post he noted, “Rumours of my joining BJP have been floated periodically with no basis whatsoever. I deny them categorically and without qualification.” Hassan, further clarified that “There are no fortune seekers in Kerala like S.M. Krishna and Jaffer Sharif.” Perhaps, for the time being, but for how long will Congress leaders resist the temptation is the question. During the last Assembly elections, questions were raised over the victory of BJP veteran O. Rajagopal from Nemam, which comes under Tharoor’s Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. At the time it was alleged that some factions of the Congress clandestinely helped BJP open its account and in return there was some sort of understanding in certain other constituencies. Even the UDF candidate from Nemam belonging to the JD(U) had expressed his “suspicion” over the outcome. There is an undercurrent of feeling among Congress workers that there is not much of a difference between the two parties so it does not matter if some go across to the BJP.
Other than Tharoor, another prominent Congress leader who showed courage to react was K. Sudhakaran from Kannur. He too ruled out any chance of his going over to BJP. A veteran of many a battle against the Marxists in their own den, Sudhakaran was said to be not too happy with the way the state Congress is run. Once V.M. Sudheeran quit as Pradesh Congress Committee president, Sudhakaran was reportedly eyeing the post. But his chances are dim in a party which is supposedly run by the diktats of the high command, but in reality is controlled by groups led by former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and the present Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala. As per party logic, since Chennithala, a Hindu, is LOP, the party president has to be a Christian, if vote bank equations have to be put in place. So for all practical purposes Hassan, a Muslim, will remain an interim president. If at all there is going to be a fallout, it will be over the president’s post, especially in the light of the announcement of organisational elections.
The BJP and its state president Kummanam Rajasekharan, an RSS man, know the frailties within the Congress. The party as an opposition is so ineffective that it is basking in reflected glory. Lady Luck is on its side as the LDF under the command of CPM’s Pinarayi Vijayan, is undoing itself daily. The Congress has nothing much to contribute to the mess created by those who came to power on the promise of setting everything right only ten months back. The CPM and the other major partner in the Front, CPI, are at loggerheads on almost every issue. The controversy over forcible land acquisition in the hill resort of Munnar is set to explode. It has become very clear with whom the government of the day stands—encroachers, small or big. The BJP has launched an indefinite agitation there, which might see it rubbing shoulders with CPI, which holds the vital revenue ministry and is fully backing forcible eviction of all illegal encroachers. The Congress is nowhere in the scene. Kummanam has tactfully put it that while the BJP will not go out of its way to woo others, its doors will always remain open for all. The Congress may perhaps console itself saying that there are no Rita Bahugunas and S.M. Krishnas in Kerala right now. But once the dam bursts there may be no stopping an exodus.