BJP is uncertain of getting the support of its main ally, Bharat Dharma Jana Sena.
NEW DELHI: As five Assembly constituencies in Kerala vote on Monday, the foremost question being asked is how the BJP is going to fare in these elections. This is perhaps the first time Kerala is witnessing byelections to five Assembly constituencies simultaneously, that too spread from one end of the state to the other—Manjeswaram at the northern tip of the state, then Aroor and Ernakulam in central Kerala; Konni and Vattiyoorkavu in the south. All these constituencies, except Manjeswaram where the sitting MLA died, fell vacant as the sitting legislators won the Lok Sabha polls. Hence, it is considered a precursor to the next Assembly polls in 2021.
Since the advent of BJP in the last Assembly elections, the state has bid goodbye to its bipolar politics. It is no more a direct fight between traditional rivals, the CPM-led Left Front, which now rules the state, and the Congress-led United Front. While for these two fronts it is just a question of gaining psychological advantage in the run-up to 2021, for the BJP it is a matter of prestige. The party had failed to live up to the expectations it had built up prior to the general elections, especially considering how the party had led the Sabarimala agitation from the front. Though the BJP, struggling to keep its allies in the NDA, had gone into a shell after the Lok Sabha elections, it looks as if the party is on the road to recovery in the state. The other day the state leadership claimed an added membership of over 11 lakh. This must have come as a shot in the arm for the current president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai. He can look forward to another term in the organisational elections scheduled for December. However, it all depends on the party’s performance in these byelections.
But, before that, the state BJP leadership had a tough time explaining the selection of its candidates, especially in two constituencies. Of the five seats, the party had come second in Manjeswaram and Vattiyoorkavu, pushing CPM to the third position in 2016. In fact, in Manjeswaram it was touch and go as party candidate K. Surendran lost to his Muslim League rival by just 89 votes.
In Vattiyoorkavu, senior RSS pracharak and former Governor of Mizoram, Kummanam Rajasekharan had given a scare to the ultimate winner, Congress’ K. Muraleedharan. But by a quirk of fate, Kummanam, who was all set to contest once again from Vattiyoorkavu, was dropped by the BJP central leadership at the last moment. No explanations were given, though it was said that Kummanam had agreed to contest after much persuasion form the RSS leadership. Perhaps, Kummanam’s over one lakh vote defeat to Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency, of which Vattiyoorkavu is one of the Assembly segments, prompted the leadership no to try him again. However, Kummanam’s absence from the fray has dampened the spirits of party workers there.
In the case of Surendran, too, many questions remain unanswered. For some reason he has opted out of the contest from Manjeswaram where he still has considerable influence. He apparently did not want to contest this time at all. He finally agreed to stand from Konni, which is located in Pathanamthitta district, the abode of Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala. This is quite understandable since Surendran was BJP’s poster boy right through the Sabarimala struggle. Still, many believe that Manjeswaram would have been a sure bet for him since the party has deep roots among the voters in that multi-linguistic constituency bordering Karnataka. Other than Malayalam, there the voters speak Tulu, Kannada, Urdu, Hindi, Konkani and a sprinkling of local dialects. In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP had an upper hand in Konni constituency, but that is no surety it can retain that trend this time.
One of the challenges the BJP is facing in these elections, other than the combined effort of the Left and the Right fronts to block its entry, is the uncertainty of the support of its main ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) representing the Ezhava community.
For quite some time BDJS has been blowing hot and cold, with the community’s self-proclaimed chief, Vellappally Natesan openly campaigning for the Left Front. His son, Tushar, is the head of BDJS and also the convenor of NDA in the state. BDJS’ refusal to contest from Aroor, in Alappuzha district, the heartland of the Ezhava community, is seen as a rebuff to BJP. Even as the campaign ended, the picture is not clear as to whether the NDA candidate will get all the Ezhava votes in the constituency, once the bastion of communist leader K.R. Gowri Amma. The decision of the Nair Service Society, which solidly stood behind the Sangh Parivar in the Sabarimala days, to back UDF will also adversely affect BJP’s chances elsewhere.
Although the main grievance of the NSS is against the Pinarayi Vijayan government, but it is also cut up with the Central government for its failure in bringing an ordinance on Sabarimala issue as was promised by the state BJP leadership.
It feels that the central BJP leadership has let down the majority community in the state. Both the BJP and the CPM have approached the Election Commission, with the NSS openly campaigning for the UDF candidate in Vattiyoorkavu. In short, the prospects are not so bright for the BJP in the byelections, though observers are not ruling out the party’s possibilities in Konni. The sizeable Orthodox Christian community in the constituency has lent its weight behind Surendran, which may turn out to be crucial. Nothing else, if the BJP can improve its vote share in these elections, it will succeed in sending alarm signals to the other two fronts.