It was a month ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his party’s dream of capturing power in Kerala where the leading players are the two major political formations–one led by the ruling CPI(M) and another by the opposition Congress.
Modi announced his Kerala dream on March 2, buoyed by the BJP’s performance in polls in the Christian-dominated states of Nagaland and Meghalaya.
Four weeks down the line, the saffron party stunned its political rivals in the southern state by getting Anil K Antony, son of veteran Congress leader and former Kerala Chief Minister A K Antony on board.
Projecting him as one of its prominent minority faces in the southern state, the BJP now says many people from Christian and Muslim communities will join the party in the coming days as the political scenario in Kerala has changed dramatically.
However, the CPI(M) and the Congress counter it, saying Modi’s dreams of capturing power in ‘God’s Own Country’ will remain unfulfilled forever.
For reaching anywhere close to the goals set by the Prime Minister, BJP knows well that they will have to have a different approach in Kerala, contrary to the ones they have adopted in the North Indian states, and are now trying hard to make inroads into the SC/ST and OBC communities apart from focusing on minorities.
“BJP is growing in Kerala election after election,” Dr Sajad Ibrahim, a well-known psephologist, and professor of Political Science, at Kerala University said.
But, he is quick to add that Kerala with almost half of its electorate belonging to minorities will hold BJP back from making any significant gains.
He also pointed out the inability of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), to rope any major political party into the alliance in Kerala, which is also a major reason for the BJP not winning anything in Kerala.
Though not having a single seat in the Kerala Assembly or a Lok Sabha MP, BJP is ruling two Municipalities and 19 grama panchayats in the southern state.
“The political scenario in Kerala has changed dramatically. We have seen that the son of A K Antony, Shri Anil Antony joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. So many people are ready to join the BJP, especially from minority communities, ” George Kurien, Kerala state general secretary of BJP told PTI.
BJP has long realised that they cannot win seats in Kerala, only with the factional support they are getting from the upper castes and that they will have to garner the support of the minorities, SC/ST, and OBCs.
Though the party has managed to get an increased vote percentage from the numerically strong Ezhava community, a major vote bank of the CPI(M), post-2016, the minority votes for BJP are still less than one per cent.
“BJP has decided to work at the grassroots level. We are now doing the people connect programme by visiting each of the houses in our area, or by conducting family meetings, combining 10 or more houses to create awareness,” K Sasikumar, Nemom constituency vice president of BJP said.
BJP could make significant inroads into the CPI(M) vote share during the 2019 General Elections using the Sabarimala women entry issue.
But, the CPI(M) is now confident that most of those who defected and voted for BJP during the 2019 elections have now returned to the party.
“We have now understood that they are eyeing our base also, which is essentially the scheduled caste and backward class in Kerala,” senior CPI(M) leader and former finance minister of Kerala, Thomas Isaac said.
But the BJP can never really make a significant gain in Kerala as the Hindu community itself will not buy the communalist ideology of the BJP, Isaac said.
He said that it is a mistake to say that minorities are blocking the BJP from gaining politically, but it was the Hindu community that is causing the problem for them.
“The ethos of the Hindu community in Kerala is very different. They have never been communal that way, they have been a very secular community,” Isaac said.
However, a change in the character of the general electorate is keeping the hopes of the BJP alive.
As per the post-election surveys conducted by psephologists in Kerala, there has been a considerable reduction in the percentage of committed voters for both LDF and UDF.
“During the 2000s, each party like Congress and CPI(M) had about 25 to 30 per cent of committed voters. But recently, during the 20116-2021 elections, we noted that there has been a decline in the committed voter percentage. It has now come down to 15 to 20 per cent,” Sajad Ibrahim said.
He said the issue of declining committed voters is more severe in Congress, while CPM also suffers from it.
“Voters are becoming more neutral and are moving away from ideologies,” Sajad said.
BJP, which is focusing more on getting to the 5,000 to 8,000 votes that decides the results in an Assembly constituency, is pinning its hope on this neutral voter base.
CPI(M), however, thinks that the numbers may look small but are very difficult to gather.
“The margin between LDF and UDF has never been more than, in the whole state, 1 lakh or two lakh votes. Three lakh votes difference would be a thumping victory,” Isaac said.
He said the margin between LDF and UDF is narrow and it is very difficult for a third front to garner that thin difference.
MM Hassan, convenor of the United Democratic Front (UDF), also backs up Isaac in this theory.
“When the margin between the LDF and UDF is so thin and when both strong political fronts are battling each other, where is the chance for BJP to win anything?” MM Hassan asked.
Hassan told PTI that the UDF is aware of BJP’s efforts to lure minorities into their fold, especially Christians.
“They are trying to lure Christians by talking to the church leaders and all. But Christians in Kerala know well that the same BJP is attacking Christians in other parts of the country” Hassan, a veteran Congress leader pointed out.
But for George Kurien, the double engine development strategy of the Modi government can win over the hearts of the youngsters and the party’s strategy to popularise these schemes to the people of Kerala will reap rich benefits for the party.
“Anil K Antony is just the beginning,” Kurien said, adding that many more will be joining the BJP in the coming days.
The saffron party had already got onboard some prominent faces from the minority communities like former MP A P Abdulla Kutty and Alphonse Kannanthanam, a former Left MLA.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)