By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The signs are ominous for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala. The lotus is in deep waters. There is no escaping that conclusion. The party, which is trying to emerge as a third force in the secular state, is now struggling to survive in the state’s political landscape.
To state that the BJP has slipped into a devil of a political hole is an understatement. The saffron camp is reeling under a raft of allegations against the state leadership. The BJP has been badly battered by the Kodakara black money heist case. Its miseries have been compounded by the allegations against state party chief K. Surendran of bribing a BSP candidate into withdrawing from contesting against him in the State Assembly election. As if all this was not enough, he has also been accused of paying Rs 10 lakh to Janatipathya Rashtriya Party (JRP) leader C K Janu for contesting the election on a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ticket. A case has been filed against Surendran on bribery charges.
It is no exaggeration to say that the BJP pot has boiled over. The party’s efforts to expand its base in the State have suffered a severe setback following its dismal defeat in the assembly elections. The dip in the BJP-led NDA’s vote share – from 15.4 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha election to 12.4 per cent in the assembly poll – has sent shivers down the saffron spine. The assembly polls witnessed the vote share of BJP alone dropping to an all-time low of 11.3 per cent! This when the party had hoped to increase its vote share to at least 20 per cent. The ‘unkindest cut’ has been the shocking erosion of 12 per cent in the BJP’s stronghold of Nemom, which it lost in the assembly election.
The sorry plight of the factionalism-riven party and the miasma of corruption charges have shaken the BJP to the very core. The national leadership finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. The party will be damned if it removes Surendran from the post of party chief; and damned if it does not act against him. The national leadership has sought to buy time by deciding to retain him for the time being. That way, the BJP hopes to weather the political storm buffeting it in Kerala. They are badly mistaken. Allowing Surendran to cling to the post like a limpet would not stem the rot. If anything, it would only hasten the party’s disintegration in the State steeped in the secular ethos. The ‘reward’ will be construed as putting a premium on corruption, bribery, embezzlement of party funds and rampant factionalism. The refusal to take corrective action has given the BJP’s political rivals a potent weapon to belabour the party with. The BJP, which burst on the political scene by claiming to be a party with a difference, has now morphed into a party plagued by differences!
There is no denying that the party leadership has been paralysed into inaction in the face of a grave crisis. Instead of wielding the big stick, the party is trying to heal the serious rift by appealing to the various factions in the state BJP to put up a united front and counter the onslaught of political adversaries who are busy twisting the knife in the BJP’s wound. But the maintain-peace-in –the-face-of-adversity strategy has fallen flat. The factional feud has gnawed too deep into the party’s vitals to admit any tinkering job. That much is clear from the continued sniping of factional leaders and their refusal to smoke the peace pipe.
It is not as if the BJP in the State has not been forewarned. The warning bells were sounded by top BJP ideologue and a leader close to the Modi-Shah duo, R. Balashankar, who exposed the mafia-style functioning of the state leadership. That was a golden chance for the BJP to swing into action and put down wrongdoing. But the leadership squandered the opportunity. And the result is there for all to see. The BJP plumbed a new low in its history. The reasons for the debacle are not difficult to understand. The state leadership has dismally failed to take the entire party along. In the allotment of tickets, the state leadership gave tickets to its loyalists and ignored legitimate claims of genuine leaders belonging to the rival factions. Just one example will suffice to illustrate the point. Prominent dissident leader, Soba Surendran, managed to get the ticket only because of the intervention of Prime Minister Modi himself!
Growing frustration in the saffron camp has manifested in the form of an open threat to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Addressing a satyagraha in the State capital recently, BJP state vice-president A N Radhakrishnan crowed that Pinarayi would not be able to sleep peacefully at home if he continued to frame BJP state chief K. Surendran in false cases. The CM is trying to frame Surendran again. He had done it during the Sabarimala agitation, warned Radhakrishnan. A situation could soon come when the Chief Minister will have to visit his children in jail, he added. The angry outburst is indicative of the ‘revenge’ the BJP is planning if the probe into the cases continues.
Whither BJP now? That is the big question troubling the rank and file who have been demoralized by the shenanigans of the state leadership. The party will have to go for a policy rejig if it wants to regain the lost ground. Its tactics of polarising people on religious lines won’t work in Kerala. Its core vote base has reached a saturation point. Further expansion of BJP’s base in the State cannot become a reality unless it makes a genuine effort to build bridges of understanding with the minorities in the State who constitute nearly 45 per cent of the population.
For that to happen, the leadership must stop targeting the minorities, especially the Muslims. Demonising a whole community for the mistakes made by a few disgruntled elements won’t do. The earlier the state leadership realizes this , the better. The million dollar question is: will wisdom dawn on the leadership? And will it initiate the much-needed course correction? If it does not, the lotus, already in deep waters, will simply wilt. (IPA Service)