After making an unprecedented debut in the Kerala Assembly last May, the state BJP has raised the bar by eyeing at least a couple of Lok Sabha seats from the state in the 2019 general elections. Over-ambitious as it may seem, the BJP is going all out to achieve its aim if the decisions of the just concluded state committee and council meetings of the party are anything to go by. The meetings were the first to be held after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Kummanam Rajasekharan took over as president of the state unit. The meetings were also held in the backdrop of criticisms within and outside that there are simmering divisions within the state unit and that Rajasekharan has not been able to contain them. The general criticism about the state unit has been that it is too top heavy. Though questions were raised in the past on whether Rajasekharan has primary membership of the party, he being brought from the Sangh Parivar to quell discontent and lessen the existing RSS-BJP divide within the state party unit, those differences had more or less been set aside for the time being at the end of the meeting. In order to better its performance in 2019, the party has decided to come out with a two-pronged plan. While it will launch a series of mass struggles against the ruling Left Democratic Front government, mainly the CPM, it will make a concerted effort to woo the backward and minority communities in the state to its fold. Simultaneously, it will concentrate on at least seven Lok Sabha seats with Assembly segments from where the BJP performed well in the last May state elections. The BJP had come second in seven Assembly seats with a vote share of more than 15%.
The prevailing political climate seems to favour the BJP combine. The ruling LDF, which came to power riding high on expectations, is not finding the going smooth. While one minister had to resign within three months, two other CPM ministers are under a cloud, one facing murder charges and another corruption charges. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s communist bureaucratic style of functioning only adds to the problems. As political commentator Civic Chandran says, “Pinarayi is yet to walk from AKG Centre to the nearby secretariat”, implying that Vijayan is yet to get over his party secretary avatar and start behaving like a Chief Minister. The major front partner, CPI, is constantly at loggerheads with its “Big Brother”. With the government unable to quell the growing IAS-IPS turf war, there is a feeling of disenchantment among the general public. There is indeed an administrative paralysis prevailing in the state.
If the LDF government is in limbo, the main opposition United Democratic Front led by the Congress, for all practical purposes, is in the ICU. The state Congress is on the verge of implosion. The triumvirate leading it, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and PCC president V.M. Sudheeran, hardly find any time to take up people’s causes. They are too busy consolidating their own bases within a truncated party. The plight of that party can be understood from the statement of senior Congress leader A.K. Antony that the state leadership is not aware how fast the soil under its feet is slipping away. Before Antony, another leader, K. Muraleedharan had sarcastically stated that in Kerala the LDF represents both the opposition and the ruling party. Some sense prevailed among them only when the Muslim League, the major partner in the UDF, came out openly requesting the Congress leaders to set their house in order.
This is where the BJP-led NDA hopes to capitalise on. Its trump card will be to expose both the fronts that have ruled the state alternatively for the last four decades or so. Once again BJP has made it clear that its doors will remain open for anyone. By saying corruption charges against a particular leader of a party cannot make that party untouchable, state BJP leaders were sending out clear signals to the Kerala Congress led by K.M. Mani, which is not part of the UDF anymore. With a major share of Ezhava support through its strategic alliance with Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, the BJP has somewhat consolidated its base in central Kerala. If a portion of the Christian vote share too can be added to this, it is bound to transform political equations in Kerala drastically.
The BJP has launched a state-wide agitation against the derailment of public distribution network in the state. One of the planks on which the BJP will focus is the much-promised land for all. Adivasi Gotra Maha Sabha leader C.K. Janu will be leading the “land for all” campaign. However, topping the BJP agenda is its campaign against the spurt in political violence under the LDF, which is continuing unabated. Even at the time of going to press, CPM stronghold Kannur, also the venue of annual schools festival, is in the grip of tension following the murder of a BJP worker. That too in Dharmadom, the constituency of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Another round of violence seems imminent, even as clouds of expectation gather on the political horizon. Many political pundits may not agree, but BJP’s optimism in Kerala might just yield fruit in 2019.