The fact remains that the state leaders have not capitalised on the central leadership’s initiatives in the state.
BJP national president Amit Shah’s one-day visit to Kerala early this week was ostensibly to attend a core committee meeting of the state party unit, but much importance was given to the visit in the light of the need to end factionalism within the party and be ready for 2019 general elections. Shah is targeting a minimum of 11 out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats from the state. BJP has never won a Lok Sabha seat from Kerala and hence Shah may sound over ambitious. However, Shah’s immediate attention will be to set the house in order and mobilise the cadre. BJP in Kerala has been without a president for more than a month since end May when state chief Kummanom Rajasekharan was packed off overnight as Governor of Mizoram in the midst of a byelection. Rajasekharan, an RSS pracharak, was brought in as president in 2015 when factional feud in the state unit was at its worst, with the incumbent president V. Muraleedharan on the one side and P.K. Krishnadas, his immediate predecessor, on the other. At the time it was hoped that a rank outsider—Kummanom was more involved in environmental issues—would help bring warring factions together. Rajasekharan may not have succeeded fully in his immediate task, but he did succeed in attracting Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a newly floated political party of the powerful Hindu Ezhava community, into the NDA fold. One-time firebrand tribal leader C.K. Janu and her Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha too joined the front. This had an impact in the 2016 Assembly elections, with the BJP vote share jumping from 6% to 14% and the party opening its account in the Assembly, against all odds, for the first time in the state. Since both Ezhavas and tribals were staunch supporters of the CPM, a large chunk of them joining hands with BJP was seen as a major shift in state politics, hitherto revolved around the two fronts led by Congress and the CPM. But that was not to be.
After the initial euphoria, the relevance of NDA started fading. BJP tried to revive it by undertaking a Janaraksha Yatra against the political violence unleashed by the ruling Left Democratic Front. The Yatra helped highlight at the national level the rise in political killings in the state after CPM came to power, but it did not solve the problems within the party. BDJS and Janu did not show much enthusiasm about the Yatra. They were unhappy that Shah did not keep his promises, especially when it came to sharing the spoils of power. The state unit, too, added to the woes of the allies. Instead of consolidating, Kummanom and company looked for greener pastures in the form of Christian vote. First there was talk of wooing K.M. Mani and his Kerala Congress to NDA. This did not take off since Mani reportedly had bargained for a Cabinet berth for his son in Delhi in return. Still in its bid to appease the minority Christian community, BJP made the mistake of offering a ministerial post to former bureaucrat Alphons Kannanthanam, a big cipher in Kerala politics. A Roman Catholic from Kottayam in central Kerala, he has no known influence in the community too. He had changed loyalties to the BJP only a year earlier, having been an MLA with CPM support in 2006. He may have left his stamp as an able and upright bureaucrat, but his contribution as a Left member of the Assembly was inconsequential. Before he was made a minister, Kannanthanam was inducted to the BJP’s National Executive Committee, overlooking many other grassroots leaders from the state. No wonder not many in the party in Kerala were not too happy about the decision. The decision only helped further alienate BDJS.
In all these years, the BJP state unit has not succeeded in building a rapport with the Nair Service Society (NSS), the socio-cultural body of the Nairs, the majority Hindu community in the state. The community more or less are traditional supporters of Congress. Individually, many BJP leaders are seen close to the NSS leadership, but it has not benefited the party electorally. This was very much in evidence in the recent Chengannur byelection where BJP’s vote share came down despite the Nair community’s rejection of the Congress. Most of that vote went for the CPM candidate. NSS is said to be unhappy the way the minority communities, Muslim League and Kerala Congress, have been hijacking the UDF. The Congress decision to surrender their Rajya Sabha seat to K.M. Mani in order to bring him back to UDF has not gone down well with the majority community. This must be at the back of his mind when Amit Shah reportedly pointed out that the party had given enough representation for state leaders at the national level. In this context, he had apparently mentioned the names of actor Suresh Gopi, a nominated Rajya Sabha member and V. Muraleedharan, who had been elected to the Upper House recently and is tipped to get a ministerial berth in the last reshuffle before the general elections. He also had pointed out that Kummanom’s posting was not one of punishment, but one of appreciation. A section of the RSS was unhappy the way Kummanom was removed before he completed his term in office. This is said to be one of the reasons for the delay in finding a new president. This apart, the fact remains that the state leaders have not capitalised on the central leadership’s initiatives in the state and instead were squabbling among themselves. Meanwhile, valuable time has been lost. Even the organisational targets for 2019 set by Shah during his last visit were not met. Shah had reportedly made it plain that this was not acceptable, chief or no chief. Till such time the state leadership sort things out, the party may have to wait for the new president.