By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The poor performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the five assembly by-elections held in the State has taken a heavy toll on the party.
The first casualty has been the party president himself. P S Sreedharan Pillai has been sent to distant Mizoram as Governor! Of course, this was not totally unexpected. Rumours of Pillai being made a scapegoat for the poor show of the BJP in the State have long been in the air.
Incidentally, Pillai is not the first BJP leader to be ‘sentenced’ to Mizoram governorship. Kummanam Rajashekharan, another former president of the Kerala unit of the BJP, suffered the same fate years ago. Kummanam has since staged a comeback. Will Pillai be lucky likewise? Time alone can tell.
Now that Pillai has made his exit, the tussle for the top party post in Kerala has well and truly begun. There are at least four leaders who have thrown their hat in the ring.
The front-runner is one of the party general secretaries in the State, K. Surendran. The plus points of Surendran are: he is a prominent leader of the V Muralidharan faction in the State unit which is close to the BJP’s national leadership. Surendran also enjoys the confidence of the BJP leader in charge of the Kerala unit, B L Santhosh, who has a major say in matters relating to Kerala. Also, although he lost the by-election from Konni assembly constituency, Surendran managed to poll more votes than the BJP candidate did in the last State Assembly elections. Another point in Surendran’s favour is the prominent role he played in the Sabarimala agitation and the traction and heft the BJP gained therefrom. It is a different matter that the party has since lost the Sabarimala steam.
But Surendran has powerful opponents in the State BJP. The faction led by former BJP Kerala chief P K Krishnadas is strongly opposed to him. This faction has already started lobbying for another general secretary of the Kerala unit, MT Ramesh, who is acceptable to the State RSS leadership as well.
Of course, the RSS’s favourite is Kummanam Rajashekharan. The State unit of the RSS was extremely unhappy when Kummanam was abruptly shunted off to Mizoram as Governor while he was Kerala BJP chief. It is again angry over the second insult to the soft-spoken politician who was denied ticket from Vattiyurkacvu. The RSS is against keeping Kummanam jobless. It feels he is the best candidate for the top BJP job in the State.
Other names doing the rounds are: Shobha Surendran and P K Krishnadas himself. Shobha has excellent credentials for the job. She is most prominent woman leader in the State BJP, and has good rapport with the BJP’s national leadership. Last but not the least, she put up a spirited performance in the Lok Sabha election from the Attingal constituency, substantially increasing the party’s vote share.
The possibility of Krishnadas himself taking over as the State BJP chief cannot be ruled out altogether. He is a former president known for his organisational prowess. Krishnadas is a senior leader from Kerala and a member of the BJP’s national executive.
Whoever becomes the chief, he or she has daunting challenges ahead. It will be a Herculean task for the new boss to rebuild the party whose vote share has come down drastically. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is in the doldrums. The BJP’s relations with its only major ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) is anything but cordial. Its tactics of building the party by polarising the polity on religious lines, which it successfully implemented in States like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, has fallen flat in secular Kerala.