Bengaluru: A short stretch of a highway has become the unlikely arena of a Left-Right tussle as Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to visit Kerala on Tuesday to fire up the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) election guns in a state that is already a battlefield.

Modi’s visit, coming just a day after the end of the annual pilgrimage at Sabarimala temple, aims to assert his image as a man of development in Kerala, a state known for its high development indicators.

He will inaugurate a 13-km stretch on a national highway in Kollam district. Originally, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan was to have inaugurated the stretch, but then the central government sent a note to the state saying Modi will attend the inauguration, said an official aware of the development.

In response, the communist government has started a campaign to showcase Vijayan as the man who speeded up the project and stop Modi from reaping political mileage. “Tomorrow, Kollam bypass will be dedicated to the nation. For Kollam, it is a long-cherished dream come true. When this Govt assumed office, only 23% of the works were in finished state. We kept our word of completing it in 1,000 days, and finished the remaining 76% in 2.5 years," tweeted Vijayan on Monday.

In tandem, a note on the official www.narendramodi.in website said: “The state of Kerala had 1,782 km of National Highways till May 2018. This length has gone up to more than 2,280 km including the in principal NH... Some of the landmark ongoing National Highways projects in the state include the Thiruvananthapuram Bypass, Thalassery-Mahe Bypass, Kuthiran Tunnel along Wadakkanchery–Thrissur section of NH-544, Alappuzha bypass on NH-66. These projects, on completion, will create new socio-economic opportunities for the people and boost trade and tourism in this region," the note said.

The visit seems to be more than an official event for Modi. It is part of an ambitious expansion plan by the BJP in a state where it has never won a parliamentary seat. As part of these plans, it has sharpened attacks on the communists and Vijayan over the Sabarimala temple issue, according to a state BJP leader, who requested anonymity.

Sabarimala has become the fulcrum of a right-wing agitation against allowing women of menstruating age to enter the temple, even though the Supreme Court has annulled the ban. The entry of two women earlier in January, enabled by the government, resulted in violence and street clashes.

This is Modi’s first visit to Kerala since the Sabarimala controversy. He will be followed by BJP president Amit Shah later this month, said the state unit leader.

The choice of the constituencies picked for Modi’s visit is instructive. Modi will arrive in Thiruvananthapuram and visit the city’s famous Padmanabhaswamy temple in the morning, where he is likely to unveil a plaque. He will then proceed to Kollam, to inaugurate a 13-km two-lane bypass on National Highway 66, which will cut travel time between Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram, and decongest traffic in Kollam town. Modi will then address a political rally of BJP workers from three constituencies—Kollam, Alappuzha and Mavelikkara.

These constituencies have the highest concentration of upper caste Nairs, who have been irked by the Left government’s anti-ban stand, and warmed up to the BJP. The BJP expects the support of Nairs to give it a 2-3% increase in vote share in at least 7-8 constituencies.

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