By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has signalled its intent to put up a better show in Kerala the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. But the strategy it has formulated to achieve the goal is flawed in the extreme.
The main reason why the strategy would come a cropper is that the central leadership has decided to retain the present team in the State. The grim reality is that the team led by BJP state president K. Surendran is in no position to bail out the party. It has proved, time and again, incapable of measuring up to the challenges the BJP faces in a secular stated like Kerala.
It was a golden opportunity for the central leadership of the party to go in for a thorough shake-up, and put in place a new team capable of putting up a better fight. But, for reasons known only to the central leaders, the party has decided to persist with the Surendran team. The strategy, amounts to putting a premium on inefficiency, favouritism and groupism which has been the party’s bane in the state. Is it because the top leadership has reconciled to the reality that the BJP is unlikely to give a better account of itself in the 2024 parliamentary poll battle?
A close look at the poor performance of the Surendran team in the recent past. The Surendran team, has the dubious distinction of putting up the worst show to-date in the electoral battles in the State. The statistics mentioned below are self-explanatory. The vote share of the BJP and its allies in the 2011 assembly polls was 6.03 per cent. It increased to 10.81 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Then it registered a big rise to 14.96 per cent in the previous assembly election and then to an all-time high of 15. 54 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, in the local body polls held last year, the percentage dip0ped slightly to 15.02 per cent. In the 2021 assembly election, the BJP’s a own vote share was 11.33 per cent. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP had a provisional vote share of 12.4 per cent. A steep fall from the 15.54 per cent it registered in 2019 parliamentary poll battle.
This, needless to say, was a major setback for the party, which was hoping to touch the 20 per cent vote share in 2021. The humiliation was complete with the party suffering a whopping 12 per cent erosion of votes in its stronghold Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram district. In the 2021 assembly poll, the party lost its lone seat, Nemom in the assembly. Expectations were high in the wake of the pathetic performance in 2021, that there would be a change of guard in the State. Nothing of the sort happened. In the meantime, the BJP’s relations with its only major ally, the BDJS also came under severe strain. One of the reasons for the BJP’s poor show in 2021 was the resentment in the BDJS over the shabby treatment the BJP leadership meted out to it. While the party suffered vote erosion in as many as 90 constituencies, it increased the share only in Palakkad, Attingal, Chattanur and Alampuzha. Heads should have rolled. But the Surendran team survived and has now managed to get another lease of life!
The BJP has also altered its strategy by deciding to concentrate on all the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in the State. This is a radical departure from its past tactic of focusing on only its strongholds like Palakkad, Thrissur, Attingal, Kasaragod and Thiruvananthapuram. The change in strategy is unlikely to benefit the party. The reason is simple: Nothing has happened in the state to warrant a massive shift in favour of the BJP. The time-tested tactic of religious polarization which fetched rich rewards for the BJP in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, has proved to be a counterfeit coin in Kerala’s strongly secular soil.
In a development that bodes ill for the party in Kerala, the decision to retain the Surendran team for the Lok Sabha poll battle has created resentment in the state unit. The dissidents, led by former BJP state boss P K Krishna Das have not made secret of their displeasure over the central leaderships’ decision to persist with the team that dismally failed in the past. Their hopes that there would be an attempt to ensure unity in the party have been dashed to the ground. Despite proddings of the central leaders, the state BJP has failed to take the rebels into confidence and work as a united team.
The results of this negative tactics are there for all to see. The Krishnadas group has, reports say, moved the ‘high command’ in protest against the move to retain the Surendran team. Senior leaders like general secretaries M T Ramesh and AN Radhakrishnan are said to be a sullen mood. Surendran has also antagonized and marginalized the only strong woman leader and the party’s firebrand, Sobha Surendran. Such is the hostility against Sobha, who is the vice-president of the BJP in Kerala, that she was not included in the core committee, the party’s highest decision-making body in the state. This being the murky backdrop, the central leaders’ hopes of winning at least 5 seats from the state are unlikely to be realized.
It is not as if the BJP lacks good leaders. The party has in its ranks leaders who have a clean image like Kummanam Rajasekharan, a former BJP state chief, and superstar Suresh Gopi. The latter is very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If the BJP seriously wants to ensure a better performance then a leader like Suresh Gopi should be made the party’s state boss. True, Suresh lost the last Lok Sabha election from Thrissur. But he was able to increase the party’s vote share in a big way. He is one of the few leaders whose appeal goes beyond the BJP’s core Hindu constituency.
Last but not least, unless the BJP changes its strategy and reinvent itself, its prospects in Kerala in the 2024 parliamentary polls are bleak indeed. The party’s determined efforts to woo the Christian voters has not produced the desired results. Even if it manages to secure a slice of the Christian vote, the party is not likely to emerge stronger in the State. For that to happen, the BJP has to build bridges of understanding with the Muslims in the State. The BJP leadership has shown no signs of intending to do anything of that sort. Demonisation of the Muslim community, which has been the party’s staple food, won’t do in a state like Kerala where the secular ethos which is deeply embedded in Keralites’ psyche. Hate politics wont work in secular Kerala. The earlier the BJP realizes this, the better for the party. (IPA Service)