By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: BJP leaders in Kerala are in seventh heaven following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Kerala. They are gushing from the housetops that visit was an unqualified success and a political game-changer.
But the jury is sharply divided over its outcome. The Prime Minister virtually sounded the poll bugle with a strong criticism of both the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF) and the Congress-headed United Democratic Front(UDF).
Addressing the Yuvom 2023, the Prime Minister said the youth were in a mood to rid the State of the two fronts which have dominated the State’s political landscape for decades. The scent of change is in the air, said the PM. Narendra Modi also turned a scathing tongue against the Government saying that while the Union Government was exporting ayurvedic drugs and such products from Kerala, some here were busy smuggling gold to the country. Modi also expressed the hope that the winds of change would blow over Kerala too, as it did the North-East states, which have Christian voters in sizable numbers. The BJP is making a determined effort to woo Christian voters in the state to improve its electoral prospects in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The dominant theme in the PM’s speech was that only a strong government at the Centre would spur development. During his stay, the Prime Minister flagged off the Vande Bharath Express train. He also announced a slew of railway development projects besides inaugurating Kochi Water Metro and laying the foundation stone for the Digital Science Park.
Significantly, the PM’s emphasis on a strong Union Government came in reply to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s accent on the need to preserve and strengthen cooperative federalism. That concept was in full play, the PM affirmed, by pointing out that his government had increased the allocation for Kerala’s rail development five-fold since 2014.
A notable feature of the prime ministerial address was the fulsome praise of the State. Kerala’s climate, literacy, natural beauty, quality of lifer and cuisine and globally linked population ensured its economic and social ascendancy. The country and the world, he noted, has a lot to learn from Kerala and the hard-working Keralites. He singled out Kochi Water Metro and the Digital Science Park for special praise.
Chief Minister Vijayan said the environment-friendly Water Metro is the first of its kind in the country and can be replicated in at least 40 cities across the country. The funding for the Rs 1136-crore project, he said, is through the State Government’s investment and through a loan from German funding agency KFW. The Water Metro would also reduce Kochi’s carbon footprint. The CM also thanked the PM profusely for agreeing to launch various projects in the state.
This was a healthy manifestation of the laudable concept of cooperative federalism. Pinarayi also took credit for setting up the first digital science park in the country. The institution, fully funded by the State is being envisioned with the express objective of promoting multidisciplinary innovation with added focus on digital industry, digital ownership, digital deep tech and digital entrepreneurship. The park will come up in 13.93 acres of land in Techno City at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore. Rs 200 crore has been allocated in the State’s budget for preliminary operations. The Manchester, Oxford and Edinburgh universities have signed MOUs with the park, he added. Pinarayi also reminded the audience that it was Kerala which set up the first Technopark and the first Digital University in the country. The digital science park is an additional feather in the State’s capacious cap, the CM averred.
Before concluding, it must be said that the Yuvom 2023 failed to live up to the hype. BJP leaders, including BJP state president K Surendran had announced that the Yuvom would witness an interaction between the Prime Minister and the youth. The interaction was conspicuous by its absence. All that the PM did was make a speech. The attendance at the event also left much to be desired with vacant chairs standing out like a sore thumb. It speaks poorly of the organizational ability of the BJP leadership in the State.
The much-publicised PM’s meeting with heads of various Christian churches also does not seem to have produced the results the BJP leaders were expecting. Of course, Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Cardinal Mar George Alancherry, who was among the seven church heads who met Modi, claimed the meeting was a success. According to him, the Prime Minister assured that the Union Government will take steps to address the violence against the community in the country. “The Prime Minister promised protection for all religions in the country,” said the Cardinal. The PM also expressed his desire to invite the Pope to the country during his interaction with the church heads, Alancherry added.
That said, it is evident that the kind of support the BJP expects from the Christian community would not materialize given the ground reality. The community voters are divided among the three political dispensations. It is also a fact that a few churches have voiced misgivings and reservations on the issue of extending total support to the BJP. The ambivalence among the community was clear from the absence of CSI and Marthoma Bishops from the PM’s meeting with various church heads.
It constitutes a serious setback and loss of face for A Dharmaraj Rasalam, CSI moderator and Bishop of South Kerala Diocese, who is incidentally, facing a probe by the Enforcement Directorate in a case filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Also, the time when a call from the church heads would ensure voting en masse for a particular political party are long past. The Christian voters have a mind of their own and they go strictly by their political convictions and beliefs rather than blindly obeying the dictates of church heads. This being the reality, the BJP is unlikely to reap rich dividends from the Prime Ministerial visit.
In conclusion, it can be said without fear of contradiction that the Prime Minister’s visit was a qualified success. He did succeed in enthusing the people of the State. He was accorded a warm welcome. But the million dollar question is: will the crowd translate itself into votes in the poll battle? (IPA Service)