If BJP is given a chance to choose a state of their wish from the southern conglomerate, I would presume they would choose Kerala. It isn’t the lure on high literacy and Human Development indexes that would spur their desire for the state but it would be the party’s urge to pay back in memory and honour to hundreds of their Karyakarthas who have sacrificed their lives to the Marxist swords in the state. Modi-Shah duo has already set their eyes on the hitherto Communist bastion. If BJP can play its cards with care and strategic predetermination, 2019 General Elections would show trembling changes in the way the state reacts to its decades long voting pattern.
Knowing the state and its political reckoning:
Kerala was the first to bear a Communist Government in the country and, probably, would be the last to bid farewell to the Communist Party. The party has made its inroads into the state through systematic effort and timely strategic interventions in the past. Charismatic leaders and the social conditions back in the 50’s and 60’s favoured the rise of Communism in the state. But, the current organization has reduced to a shadow image of its once glorious past. Ideologically, Communism has become obsolete in Kerala like it did in all other places in India. Their contemporary leaders are icons of luxurious lifestyle and the image of the party has undergone an apparent makeover from the ‘Party of the underprivileged’ to the ‘Party of Privileged’.
Congress, on the other hand, is crippling through a series of crisis in the state. The party is dwindling, owing to high intensity of factionalism within. Situation is so grave that the biggest enemy of Congress in the state is Congress itself. Collapse of the party at the national level has further impacted the state unit so badly that even the ground level mobilization of workers has ceased on many constituencies.
Two coalition fronts, Left Democratic Front (LDF) and United Democratic Front (UDF) formed under CPI (M) and Congress respectively, ruled the state in successive turns of 5 years, since 1982. Congress and CPI (M) never allowed the BJP to prosper in the electoral arena and on those instances when BJP was hopeful of bagging a seat, Congress and CPI (M) clubbed together to crush the bud of the lotus before it could bloom. The tactics kept bearing results until 2016, when the veteran leader of BJP, O Rajagopal, crushed all the barriers and emerged victorious from Nemom constituency in the 2016 assembly elections. Notably, BJP has shown a steady rise in its vote share since 2006 Assembly elections. It went up from 4.75 per cent in 2006 to 6.03 per cent in the 2011 polls. Furthermore, in the 2016 Assembly elections the vote share reached an all time high of 15.20% for the NDA. They have achieved victory in the Nemom seat, lost the Manjeshwaram constituency by a thin margin of 89 votes and managed to be the runner up in 6 other constituencies in the state. The achievement was not less for a party which was struggling hard to be a conspicuous strength in the state politics.
Though the state is projected as a distinct example of secularism, caste and religious communities play a significant role in its electoral politics. While Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has a huge appeal in the Malabar region where Muslims have a significant sway, Kerala Congress (M), spearheaded by a bigwig KM Mani floats on the Christian votes in Central Kerala. Ezhavas (OBC) and Nairs are the prominent Hindu castes in the state which are organized under the wider umbrella of SNDP and NSS respectively. Ezhava votes which comprises of 20% of the total population, are traditionally the lifeline of CPI (M), while the Congress is backed by Nairs, Christians and Muslims. Though, BJP has made a significant headway into the Nair vote bank of Congress, they could hardly make any progress into the Christian and Muslim vote banks.
Opportunities and Challenges ahead:
1) BJP’s chances depend on the extent to which they can tap into the Ezhava vote bank. BDJS, the political wing of SNDP, can help them achieve this feet. Though, BDJS is an ally of BJP, the relationship within the alliance is bitter.
2) The state unit of BJP is not devoid of infighting and groupism. After Kummanam Rajasekharan ( former state President) was appointed as the Governor of Mizoram, the state unit is in dire need of a new head who can reign on these internal discords and stitch together the allies to run coalition fronts in the state.
3) 99% of the media outlets in Kerala are highly Anti-BJP and they had left no stone unturned in demonizing BJP and RSS all these years, but the proliferation of Social media has helped the party to overhaul the damage done to a certain extent.
4) The voters’ age factor seems to be in favor of the BJP. In 2019 there will be many new voters who will hit the polling booths for the first time. They have a fresh, unwritten mind unlike their elders which could be easily influenced by the current popularity of the party. BJP can further bank on Modi’s popularity among the youth to garner these votes to their favor.
5) Kerala has the highest number of RSS Shakhas in the southern region, which clearly indicates that the Sangh’s activities have gained a lot of momentum in the recent years. They were able to attract disgruntled youth from both CPI (M) and Congress in large numbers over the years. A strong grass root level cadre support is a positive factor for BJP to make sizeable gains.
6) The increasing Wahhabisation of North Kerala and the worrying silence of Congress and CPI (M) are alienating Hindus away from both the fronts. If BJP can’t capitalise on this disgruntlement and consolidate Hindu votes in their favor, nothing can save them in the near future.
7) In Kerala, Government exerts complete control over the temples with a dedicated ‘Devaswom Ministry’ managing the temple affairs for the regime. There are widespread allegations of corruption and misuse of temple funds by the authorities. BJP was upfront in raising its voice against the mismanagement of temples by the government and they can be sure to win the trust of the Hindu community, if they can devise a solution to the Government’s encroachment on temple rights.
8) As a move to increase the social commitment, BJP has already initiated localized programs for skill development and has also started organizing smaller groups of unemployed people to kick start small scale work units. Similar programs should be launched throughout the state to increase their connectivity with the people.
9) Campus politics in Kerala is currently undergoing a huge transformation. KSU and SFI being the predominant students’ unions that ruled the campuses are now facing tough challenges from ABVP. In most of the colleges, ABVP has fully replaced KSU and has become the main opponent to SFI. Popularity of the ABVP among the youth will definitely influence lakhs of new voters who are going to hit the polling stations in 2019.
10) Law and order has been in shambles ever since Pinarai Vijayan assumed office. CM-cum-Home Minister, Mr. Vijayan hails from Kannur, the most politically volatile district in the state. Marxist party, which has adapted violence as a means of eliminating their political rivals in Kannur is now attempting to enact the same methodology throughout Kerala. As an effect of which, people have turned bitter about the lawlessness in the state.
Given the grassroot level strength of RSS and popularity of Modi among the youth, pulling off a Tripura kind of victory may not be an impossible task but it’s not an easy one in a state like Kerala where the composition of population is not in favor of BJP (Christians and Muslims comprise almost 45% of the total population). In spite of all these deterrents, BJP in its current avatar is highly unpredictable. They can crush any formidable opposition or reverse a negative swing on any day. An internal survey of the party has filtered out almost 11 constituencies where BJP could make some substantial gains in the 2019 elections. The major seats that they will concentrate on are Chalakudy, Kasargod, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram, Attingal, Kollam, Mavelikara, Alapuzza, and Pathanamthitta. Though winning all the 11 seats seems farfetched, victory on at least 3-5 seats is highly plausible. If Kerala can contribute at least 4 Lok Sabha seats to BJP’s kitty, it will be a peril for both Congress and CPI (M) who are struggling to hold their last bastion.