By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Metroman E. Sreedharan’s decision to join the BJP has given the party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Kerala a big boost. The big question, however, is: can the ace technocrat’s decision work wonders for the BJP?
The ace technocrat’s announcement that he would contest in the upcoming Kerala Assembly elections shows his political as well as electoral ambitions. The former Managing Director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) at has made it clear that he is prepared to become the Chief Minister if the BJP so desired. The BJP State president K Surendran has confirmed that Sreedharan would soon be joining the BJP – most probably during the VijayaYatra the BJP State president has undertaken. Sreedharan is on record that his clean image and impeccable credentials for the top post would attract more persons to the BJP. He also said that he had no interest in a Governor’s post.
Sreedharan also accused both the Congress-led United Democratic Front(UDF) and the CPI(M)-headed Left Democratic Front(UDF) of doing nothing for the State’s development. All that they are doing, he added, is to benefit their own parties. It is his firm belief that the BJP alone can impart a much-needed impetus to Kerala’s growth that made him join the saffron party, he opined. The technocrat, who has executed several prestigious projects, including the Konkan Railway, Delhi Metro and Kochi Metro, said Kerala has lagged behind for long, and he wants to do something for the State.
Sreedharan also rated Prime Minister Narendra Modi as one of the best leaders the world has seen. Modi’s track record shows that he has delivered on his promises and develop the country on the whole, Sreedharan averred. The major achievement of the Modi Government, according to the Metroman, is that it has not been tarred by the brush of corruption.
Euphoria over the latest development cannot, however, obscure the fact that the task of getting Sreedharan elected is not all that easy. What are the options before the BJP in Kerala? One option – perhaps the only option – is to field him from one of its strongholds in Kasaragod, Palakkad or Thiruvananthapuram, the three districts where the party has considerable influence. Some of the constituencies which could be chosen by Sreedharan are Manjeswaram in Kasaragod district, Palakkad in Palakkad district or Thrissur in Thrissur district, where the party is growing rapidly to the worry of both the LDF and the UDF. Super star Suresh Gopi, who contested from Thrissur for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, succeeded in putting up an impressive performance on behalf of the saffron party. The party also made its presence felt in the local body elections in the district. It also remains to be seen whether the entry of Sreedharan to the saffron camp will impel other technocrats, bureaucrats and leaders with impressive credentials to make a beeline for the BJP.
It is also an undeniable fact that the BJP in the State is badly divided into factions led by Union Minister V Muraleedharan and former BJP State chief P K Krishnadas. As if this was not enough, its firebrand woman leader SobhaSurendran is at odds with the current leadership of the State unit of the party. Attempts to effect a patch-up by the central leaders, including BJP national president JP Nadda have not been successful, so far. Sobha, who kept herself away from active party politics for over a year, only recently ended her self-imposed isolation. She hogged the headlines, once again, by undertaking a two-day fast in support of the job aspirants in PSC rank lists who have launched an agitation in front of the State Secretariat in the State Capital. Her individual initiative has not been to the liking of the BJP in the State. The cold response to her fast was clear from the failure of top BJP state leaders to turn up at the venue of her fast.
The display of such open hostility does not augur well for the saffron camp. The party will have to put up a united front if it has to do reasonably well in the Assembly elections. True, Sreedharan’s decision to join the BJP can, to some extent, boost the image of the party in the State. The Metroman’s decision, the BJP leaders claim, shows that even in Kerala, BJP is the party to go to because of the ‘misrule’ of both LDF and UDF-led Governments. The technocrat believes that for the sustained development of the State, assistance from the Centre is a must. Governments that are constantly at loggerheads with the Centre are a luxury a state like Kerala cannot afford. Both the UDF and LDF Governments which have ruled the state alternately have done just that: vehemently criticizing the government at the Centre and seeking the assistance of the Centre at the same time. This kind of negative politics has not helped Kerala at all, Sreedharan said, adding that the confrontationist policy and ambience must change. And for that to happen a government led by the BJP must come up in the State.
A BJP-led Government in the State has, however, so far remained a gleam in the BJP’s eyes. The saffron camp has to cross many a hurdle to realize this dream. And, if the BJP’s electoral performance in the State known for its robust secular ethos, is anything to go by, the outlook is anything but rosy for the party. There is no denying that the party is growing but growing at a painfully slow pace. The party’s poll percentage has never gone beyond the 15-16 percentage until now.
All that is set to change this time around with the entry of leaders with non-corrupt image like E Sreedharan, party leaders aver. The party will have to reinvent itself if it wants to wrest power from the well-entrenched LDF and UDF, which are backed up committed and dedicated party cadres, especially the LDF. The BJP’s time-tested policy of effecting religious polarization, implemented effectively in states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, has not worked in Kerala. The saffron party will have to make serious and sincere efforts to woo the minority communities to its camp. It is not as if the BJP has not made any attempts to attract the minorities hitherto. But these efforts have not been successful so far. It did try to reach out to the minorities, especially Christians.
Senior BJP leader and Mizoram Governor P S Sreedharan Pillai recently took the initiative to arrange a meeting between Christian church leaders and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the outcome of such meetings has not been all that positive, to the chagrin of State BJP leadership. Similarly, the BJP’s attempts to reach out to the Muslim community have also failed to make a breakthrough so far. As part of an attempt to mollify the Muslims, the BJP fielded more Muslim candidates in the recently-concluded local body elections. Earlier, the BJP had appointed AP Abdulla Kutty, a former CPI(M) leader who joined the BJP lately, as vice president of the Kerala unit of the party. But such tokenisms have failed to impress the Muslim community which remains fearful of the aggressive majoritarianism being sedulously fostered and practiced relentlessly by the saffron party.
Unless and until a genuine modus vivendi happens between the BJP and the minorities in the State, the party-led NDA cannot hope to wrest power from the LDF and the UDF. Till that happens, entry of technocrats like E Sreedharan can only be mere palliatives. The BJP has, to quote Robert Frost, ‘miles to go’ before it can hope to emerge as a party of consequence in Kerala. (IPA Service)