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Business News/ Politics / The scent of saffron wafting from new Kerala story playing out in BJP’s God-forbidden land | Analysis
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The scent of saffron wafting from new Kerala story playing out in BJP’s God-forbidden land | Analysis

Kerala’s bipolar political terrain is set for a drastic overhaul as its first elected lawmaker on the lotus symbol, Suresh Gopi, became a union minister. BJP also pushed its Christian outreach by picking Geroge Cherian, a leader from the community, as its second minister from Kerala.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Leader Suresh Gopi greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he takes oath as a cabinet minister (MOS) during the swearing-in ceremony of the NDA government, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, June 09, 2024 (Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)Premium
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Leader Suresh Gopi greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he takes oath as a cabinet minister (MOS) during the swearing-in ceremony of the NDA government, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, June 09, 2024 (Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

The Kerala Story may not have had any takers in the southern state but the agenda wrapped in it could gradually resonate with its so-far bipolar electorate, Lok Sabha Election Results 2024 reveal.

And that may not be a once-in-a-blue-moon bloom, as the top political fronts–the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front and the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front—would like to believe.

If you dig deep into the poll data, A-Plus seats, where the BJP-led NDA considers the probability of its candidate emerging victorious, have mounted to 20. Of the 140 assembly segments, the NDA led in 11 seats and came second in nine LS constituencies of Thiruvananthapuram, Attingal, Alappuzha, Palakkad and Kasaragod. These vital stats will toe BJP's first lawmaker elected in Lotus symbol from Kerala, Suresh Gopi, who won from the Thrissur constituency as the saffron party makes fresh inroads into a terrain considered forbidden for the BJP for nearly seven decades after the state was formed.  The state has had only one BJP legislator so far.

Eroding base

The erosion in the vote bank has cut across major political fronts—the ruling LDF and the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), two entities that have so far held sway over Kerala’s bipolar political arena's electoral pattern.

In simple arithmetic, the LDF’s vote share dip of 3.03 per cent and UDF’s 2.27 per cent compared to the 2019 LS polls means the BJP’s gains have come from this erosion.

Also read: Modi.3 takes oath. Full list of union ministers

While statistically, this could be a right inference, the LDF and the UDF have historically negated any such political thesis and instead indulged in mudslinging each other for gains the BJP-led front made and diverting attention.

Not any more.

“There is a clear shift in voter preference across sections. The reality is that the bipolar nature of Kerala’s polity has been ruptured. It is now a tripolar story, and there is no going back from this," senior journalist and noted political commentator K Balachandran told Livemint.com

He says the surge in the BJP-led NDA’s vote share is a “natural progression" that cannot be negated anymore. Political analysts, mostly leaning towards the Left narrative, vouched for this. They did not wish to be identified.

The LDF’s traditional supporters from the Hindu community, the Ezhavas, have felt disillusioned by the CPM’s overwhelming craving for the Muslim vote, as reflected in its electoral strategy to prioritise the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) plank in this LS poll campaign. They felt it wasn’t a major poll issue this time, and the state government would have little say on the matter.

The majority of the creamy layer of the Ezhava community has gradually shifted allegiance over the last few years, many overtly and some covertly, a fact that CPM acknowledges within the closed doors of its rigid organizational structure. 

However, that erosion could not be contained as the party’s structural identity as a supreme entity, rather than the government, when it wields power, is not the case now. After the Pinarayi dispensation’s emergence in 2016, and more so after it got an unprecedented second stint, the epicentre of power within the party and the government revolved around the dominating persona of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan alone. This meant the CPM’s organisational clout diminished for any corrective measures to be even thought about. 

Also Read: NDA govt sworn in: Allies get 5 cabinet berths

Default winners, but…

The Congress-led UDF has its own troubles as its organisational structure is in shambles. But by default, after the relentless electoral pounding since the Modi government came to power in 2014, it has now emerged as the main opposition party at the Centre, giving a leeway to the party and the UDF in Kerala. The procession of its leaders, though not the top ones in the hierarchy, to the BJP in the state has almost ended with this election.

The Congress and its allies can now look at the possibility of reaching striking distance from getting into power in the state, where assembly elections will be held in a year and a half. That stems the flow, but the bigger issue it faces is its lack of organisational preparedness to cash in on this surge in anti-CPM sentiment in the local body polls, slated to be held a year from now.

Scent of Saffron 

That is where the BJP’s might will come into play. The BJP will expand its power equations from its Palakkad Municipal Corporation abode to probably make maximum gains in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, where it is the principal opposition now. It can only make gains considering that the Congress is organisationally weak to tap the anti-government sentiment prevailing in the capital city.

If the BJP manages to put up a better-than-expected performance in the local body polls, the Congress may not get power on a platter, as is the predominant line of thinking in the KPCC.

If the BJP can put up popular candidates like Suresh Gopi and shun tried-and-tested political figures who have failed, and water down its touted hyper-nationalist credentials, it can hope to attract the minority votes in Kerala, a prerequisite to emerge politically in the state, where Muslims and Christians together account for more than 40 per cent of the population.

“It is almost a given that the BJP will carry on its new-found momentum to the local body polls and the Assembly elections slated in two years from now," Balachandran says.

Now, as the first BJP candidate to win a Lok Sabha poll, Suresh Gopi has given ammunition for the party's central leadership to think differently—that is, to shun the usual candidate selection procedure and rope in more popular choices or crowd pullers who might not be directly associated with the saffron camp.

That is not good news for the BJP's state unit apparatchiks. Still, it may open up more possibilities for the Sangh, which has been desperately trying to break the party's ‘untouchability’ tag. That jinx may have been finally broken, but it required a non-hardcore Sangh candidate to lead the way.

“They  (the BJP) have been able to make a successful outreach to the Hindu community, many of whom were earlier averse to the Hindutva ideology, and also a section of Christians who sense a competition with the Muslims.  Radicalisation among a section of Muslims has not helped either, especially since the assault on TJ Joseph," says Delhi-based journalist and Open Executive Editor N P Ullekh, who hails from Kannur in Kerala, considered a CPM bastion. Joseph was a Malayalam professor in a Christian college in central Kerala, whose wrist was chopped off by radical elements of the Popular Front of India in 2010, citing a perceived blasphemous question paper he had scripted. 

Ullekh, the author of The Untold Vajpayee, says that recently, the CPM has also been sloppy in combating the effervescence of communal tensions and has opted for trade-offs with the hope of securing a few votes here and there. 

“The pro-BJP trend in the Hindi heartland may have mellowed down a bit, but it is being zealously embraced in Kerala," he pointed out. 

As political indicators foresee a clear saffron pathway in a tripolar electoral arena, the last outpost that resisted the saffron tide could be on shaky turf. Remember, Kerala mostly had a different take than the national scenario, as was evident from its backing for Congress in the post-emergency voting and the resounding snub for the NDA in 2019. 

As NDA’s fortunes suffer a setback in its Gangetic plain bastions, Kerala might again be scripting a different political tale. To realise this, you need to just read between the lines: two BJP ministers from Kerala were sworn in – One is a natural choice, Suresh Gopi, and the second one is Geroge Kurian, who did not even contest the Lok Sabha Elections 2024.  Kurian,  a former vice chairman of the National Minorities Commission, hails from Kottayam, the Christian heartland of Kerala.

The writing is on the wall.

 

 

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Published: 10 Jun 2024, 03:35 PM IST
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