O. Rajagopal’s action fuels gossip that the grand old man is keeping the CPM in good humour, hoping to get another term with the CPM’s help.

 

New Delhi: Thanks to nonagenarian O. Rajagopal, the lone BJP face in the 140-member Kerala Assembly, an innocuous resolution, meant to be a dead horse news-wise, has hit the national headlines. The venue and the occasion: A special session of the Kerala Assembly on the year-ending Thursday, convened after a well-publicised spat with Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, passed a resolution demanding repeal of the newly enacted farm loans by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. The Governor had initially turned down a request by the Left Front government to convene a special session on the ground that farmers in Kerala were not in distress. However, after much political mud-slinging where top CPM leadership had accused the Governor of being a “stooge of the RSS”, the Governor gave his nod and the session was held on 31 December.

The resolution per se has no validity since Parliament has okayed the laws and the President given his stamp of approval. But the Left Front can take solace in the fact that it has registered its protest against the laws and declared solidarity with the agitating farmers camped on Delhi’s borders. Incidentally, on 31 December 2019, the Kerala Assembly had passed a similar resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act which, too, remains a protest on paper, nothing more, nothing less.

However, the passing of the resolution demanding the repeal of farm laws got national attention when the venerable Rajagopal, the most known face of BJP in an otherwise Left leaning state, supported it “in the spirit of democracy”. “I support the resolution. During the discussion, I opposed certain references against the farm laws, but I did not object to the general consensus reached by the House against the farm laws,” Rajagopal said immediately after coming out of the Assembly. When pointed out that he was opposing his party’s stand, the soft-spoken MLA had this to say, “It may not be the party’s stand. These compromises are part of a democratic system. We must not be adamant. (Here he used a colloquial Malayalam proverb ‘can’t insist the hare one caught has two horns’.) We must go with the consensus.” In his speech in the Assembly, Rajagopal said that the laws were designed to protect the famers. “They avoided middlemen and commission agents and enabled farmers to sell their produce wherever they chose to. Those who oppose the laws were against the farmers,” Rajagopal had said.

With the lone BJP legislator not opposing it, the resolution stating that the genuine concerns of the farmers should be addressed and the Narendra Modi government should withdraw the laws was passed unanimously. Earlier, while moving the resolution Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that “the urgency of the current situation makes it clear that if this agitation continues, it will seriously affect Kerala…It is a serious problem that these important laws were passed in a hurry without even being sent to the Standing Committee of Parliament for consideration.”

By Thursday evening as the news of Rajagopal’s support to the resolution got national attention and BJP’s local leaders expressed their dismay over “Rajettan’s” (as he is popularly addressed by the younger crop of leaders) stand, the old guard made an about-turn. Blaming the Speaker of the House for not putting the resolution to vote, Rajagopal said in a statement that it was “a violation of precedent”. “I have clearly stated my stand in the Assembly during my speech… I am not opposing the Centre’s bill and have not opposed the Central government. This bill is god for farmers. I have even said that the PM is always ready for talks, but the pre-condition by protesters to repeal the laws for talks has delayed the process. The statements that I am against the Central government are baseless,” the statement said.

Interestingly, when the Kerala Assembly adopted a resolution against CAA in 2019, Rajagopal just abstained from voting, not voting against it. In 2016, at the time of the current Speaker’s election, Rajagopal supported the Left candidate simply because he was named Sreeramakrishnan!

But Rajagopal’s action has an immediate effect on the faction-ridden state BJP and fuelled gossip that the grand old man was keeping the CPM in good humour hoping to get another term. Though the CPM angle is too far-fetched, it has many takers because when Rajagopal won unexpectedly from Nemam in capital Thiruvaanthapuramfrom, the general belief was that a section of the CPM had voted for him. It remains a fact that there was a factional feud within the CPM at that time and the official candidate’s chances were torpedoed.

And it is true that Rajagopalan, like many other popular leaders, has been keeping a low profile, keeping a distance from the current leadership. The RSS, without which the BJP is zero in Kerala, had openly made its displeasure known to the present state party president, a protégé of Union Minister V. Muraleedharan who, many in the party believe, remote controls the state party unit from Delhi. Many prominent party leaders did not bother to campaign for the party in the recently held local body elections which saw a setback to the party.

The state BJP is on a downhill after the euphoria created during the Sabarimala agitation in 2018. The party, many feel, has failed to sustain the momentum gained during those days.

Rajagopalan is said to be part of that group which also includes former president and RSS ideologue Kummanam Rajasekharan, who was “unceremoniously” shunted to Mizoram as Governor. His recall and subsequent induction into the electoral fray against Shashi Tharoor was mainly due to RSS pressure. Even his defeat (rather big fall in vote percentage) was supposedly engineered by a section of the BJP’s Thiruvananthapuram unit, which is said to be very much part of the current state leadership. So, it is natural that many things are being read between the lines of O. Rajagopal.

Definitely some churning is happening in the state BJP. It will happen in the next couple of months as Assembly elections are due in April.