BJP pins its hopes on the crowd it pulled during its ‘Save Sabarimala’ campaign.


New Delhi: Even as the Congress and the CPM trade charges of large scale bogus voting against each other in post election Kerala, the Bharatiya Janata Party  seems to be gearing up to consolidate its gains from this Lok Sabha campaign, which very much revolved around the Sabarimala controversy.

At separate meetings called to take stock of the situation late last month and early this month, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP’s core committee felt that the National Democratic Alliance had succeeded in consolidating its position in the state. That the BJP has successfully broken the bipolar mindset of Kerala voters itself is considered by the RSS think tank as the single largest gain from this general election. So far in both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in this southern state, it used to be a direct fight between the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPM-led Left Democratic Front. The BJP or any other third party used to be just there for the sake of it. Other than being also in the fray, their role was mainly confined to helping the chances of one of the front candidates depending on the caste equations of particular constituencies. This was more evident in central and southern Kerala where Hindu and Christian voters dictated terms.

However, this was not the case in the north, where the CPM and the Muslim League continued to hold sway, especially in the Malabar region. Though north Kerala is home to the largest number of RSS shakhas, the BJP has never succeeded in translating its influence into votes in the region. The RSS boasts of having over 5,000 shakhas in the state, much more than even Gujarat, with a cadre-strength of nine lakh enrolled members. It is this cadre that came out on the streets of Kerala when the BJP leadership launched its “Save Sabarimala” campaign following the Supreme Court judgement last September. That the state BJP leadership staked claim over this turnout is another matter.

The state BJP and its national president Amit Shah may be quite happy if the party wins at least one seat from the state. In fact, the party expects to win in state capital Thiruvananthapuram and neighbouring Pathanamthitta where the Lord Ayyappa temple is situated and hopes for a miracle in Thrissur. The party’s vote share may go up to 20%. The leadership seems confident about a minimum of 18%.  In 2014, the party had got about 10.82% which went up to 15% two years later during the Assembly elections. So the calculation is that a 20% vote share should bring the party at least two Lok Sabha seats. Though there is a consolidation of minority vote in favour of the UDF following Congress president Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad in the state, the BJP calculates that the party has got the majority of Sabarimala votes which in normal circumstances would have gone to the CPM.

According to BJP’s assessment, Congress and the UDF will gain the most and the CPM will face its worst electoral defeat. The party expects 10,000 to 20,000 victory margin in Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta. But the dark horse seems to be film actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi who contested from Thrissur. Muslims account for 16% and Christians 35% of votes in this “cultural capital” of Kerala. Thrissur was one of the epicentres of Sabarimala struggle and that is the main reason why BJP is pinning its hopes on Suresh Gopi, though a late entrant into the fray. If the crowd he got during campaign rallies turns into votes, then the Rajya Sabha member could be a clear winner there. And if it happens, then that will be a major upset in the state. But it will not be a surprise if BJP comes second in all these three constituencies, pushing the CPM to third position.

The BJP as a political party still may not have made much inroads in Kerala despite its months-long campaign for “Ayyappa devotees”, but the RSS definitely has enhanced its acceptance in the state. The intensity of the “Sabarimala effect” among the electorate may wane over a period of time or at least it will not be so prominent till the next elections. Only time can tell how much the BJP will gain by the time the State Assembly polls are held in two years’ time.

Given the organisational set-up of the party in the state, it doesn’t hold much prospect for the saffron brigade. The party is still plagued by factionalism, with a handful of leaders, bereft of any followers, warring against each other. However, post the general elections, winning a Lok Sabha seat from the state or not, the RSS is unlikely to let this advantage slip away.   It is bound to step up its aggressive campaign against the communists, with Sabarimala continuing as its main plank.  Making Sabarimala into an Ayodhya in the South is its avowed game plan. The organisation is at least half way through there, thanks mainly to the bungling of the ruling CPM. That temples are going to be the main pawns in the RSS’ political game is evident from the way the organisation forced the government to change its decision not to allow an ailing elephant take part in the prestigious Thrissur Pooram, beginning this Monday.   Lest we forget, Kannur in all probability will witness more political violence in the days to come.

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