By P. Sreekumaran
The dissidents in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit in Kerala have upped the ante, after a long lull, by forcefully demanding a change in the party’s state leadership.
The core committee meeting of the BJP in the state, which met in Kochi the other day, saw former BJP state president P. K. Krishnadas and prominent women leader Soba Surendran turning up the heat on BJP state president K. Surendran. Both the prominent dissident leaders strongly criticized Surendran for the dismal performance of the BJP in the 2021 State Assembly elections. They also demanded a comprehensive revamp of the party organization. And merit, not loyalty to the official leadership, should be the base of the organizational reorganisation, they insisted.
The core committee meeting, held after a long time, discussed the fact-finding report prepared by BJP vice-president A N Radhakrishnan, which has blamed the state leadership, among other things, for the electoral debacle. A major factor which contributed to the poor show of the BJP was the failure of the official leadership to ensure unity in the party. A lion’s share of the tickets were cornered by leaders loyal to the Surendran faction.
The rival factions led by Krishnadas and Soba were meted out a raw deal. It may be mentioned that Soba herself secured the ticket only after the direct intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The poll result in Kazhakoottam from where Soba contested showed that she polled fewer votes than the votes the BJP candidate secured in the previous election. And the combative Soba made no secret of her ire over the state leadership’s failure to ensure the full cooperation of the local leaders. It only shows that the BJP in the State continues to be riven by rampant factionalism.
The Radhakrishnan report also attributed the poor BJP show in the assembly elections to the failure of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena(BDJS), the most prominent ally of the BJP in the party-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) in the State. The reasons for the BDJS’s ‘non-cooperation’ are clear. The party is extremely unhappy about the BJP’s refusal to concede their long-standing demands. The resentment of the BDJS resulted in a substantial section of the party voters voting for the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF).
As if this was not enough, the BJP also failed to make forays into the Christian vote in central Kerala, says the Radhakrishnan report. A meeting a section of the Christian community leaders had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised hopes of the BJP bagging a big slice of the Christian vote. That has not happened much to the chagrin of the BJP leaders. They had pinned their hopes on a big chunk of the Christian vote gravitating towards the saffron party following its disillusionment with the Congress-led United Democratic Front(UDF). The results showed that the hopes had been badly belied.
The report also pointed to the failure of the powerful Nair community, a substantial section of which normally votes for the BJP, to support the party to the desired extent in the Assembly elections. The alienation of the Nairs is being ascribed to the BJP’s failure to offer enough incentives to the community. The Sabarimala issue also did not fetch the kind of support and vote the BJP had hoped to get in the Assembly election. Obviously, the Sabarimala card has outlived its utility. It cut little ice with the voters of Kerala, who are steeped in the secular ethos, and are strongly opposed to the politics of religious polarization assiduously practised by the BJP.
Last but not the least, the arrogance and the dictatorial style of functioning of the Surendran-V. Muralidharan(Union Minister and mentor of Surendran) duo also accounted for the BJP’s poorest electoral performance so far. Surendran had boasted that the party would rule the State if it won 35 seats! The party however ended up by losing the lone assembly seat, Nemom, it held in the last assembly! That was an open call for horse-trading, with an eye on defections from Congress, post poll. The braggadocio put off the people of Kerala who voted with a vengeance for the LDF. BJP State chief Surendran contesting from two seats also sent out a wrong message. His defeat in both the seats left the party scurrying for cover to hide its acute embarrassment. All that the Surendran-Muralidharan team managed to ‘achieve’ was a precipitous decline in the BJP vote percentage from around 15 per cent to 12 per cent!
The pathetic position of the BJP in Kerala has deepened the dilemma of the central leadership, too. It is damned if it acts on the Radhakrishnan report. And damned if it ignores the report. It is a desperate situation. But then, desperate situations demand desperate steps. The national BJP president has no option but to change the state leadership, however unpalatable it may be. The longer it delays the decision, the greater will be the damage. The nettle will have to be grasped sooner than later. The need of the hour is the appointment of a leader who is less abrasive and less arrogant – a leader who is capable of accommodating the wishes of various factions in the state party and addressing their sensibilities alone can arrest the rapid down-the-hill slide of the BJP in Kerala.
The Radhakrishnan report, however, presents a big opportunity for the national leadership. The religious polarisation policy which fetched handsome gains for the BJP in States like Uttar Prasesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, has not succeeded, and won’t succeed in a strongly secular state like Kerala. It must take steps to build bridges of understanding with the Muslim community which accounts for 26 per cent of the State’s population. The BJP must realise that the policy of belligerent Muslim-baiting will not help it in the State. A genuine modus vivendi with the Muslim and Christian communities alone can revive the fading fortunes of the saffron party in Kerala. Can the BJP leaders rise to the occasion? The party’s past record is anything but inspiring. (IPA Service)