K. G Suresh

BJP President Amit Shah was recently in Kerala where his party has never won a seat in either the Assembly or Lok Sabha elections. The key players in god’s own country have always been the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
With predominantly Christian regional outfits such as the Kerala Congress (Mani) and Muslim outfits such as the Indian Union Muslim League backing the Congress, the support of the majority community has gone to the Left Front though the CPI(M) and its allies have never sympathised with any Hindu cause.
During his visit, Shah announced among other things a massive membership drive starting 1st November. The BJP chief has also set the panchayat election next year as the first target for the party, which has over the years received up to 14 per cent of the vote share in the State but failed to translate it into even a single seat in the 140-member Kerala Assembly so far.
Perhaps no other State offers the BJP the kind of opportunities that Kerala does. To begin with, it is here that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has one of its strongest bases in the country. It’s network is spread across the length and breadth of the State.
Having experienced the governance models of both the LDF and the UDF, the people are not averse to the idea of a viable third alternative, provided the latter has the capacity to take head on the two alliances, project a strong and effective leadership, and show a new path of development to the people of the State.
There has always been widespread speculation that BJP votes were being sold to the highest bidder. However, since V Muralidharan he took over as the BJP’s Kerala chief, he has made serious efforts to change this perception. The result of the Lok Sabha election, in which the BJP secured the second position in Thiruvananthapuram and got a sizeable share of the votes elsewhere in the State, is an outcome of these efforts.
Now the party should try to increase the tally and expand into new areas besides, consolidating its position in traditional strongholds such as Palakkad. The Ppanchayat election will enable the party to strengthen its grassroot level support.
There is also an influx of CPI(M) cadre into the BJP which is resulting in violent clashes between the two parties – an issue highlighted by Mr Shah during his Kerala visit. However, winning over some cadres is different from weaning away voters, given the ground realities in the State.
To begin with, the party does not have a charismatic leadership in the State. There is no dearth of leaders in the party but there are serious ego clashes within the present leadership, with no two leaders seeing eye to eye, and different factions being unable to come together even on major issues. The joke in Kerala is that the differences within the party which emerge during key organisational meetings, which won’t find a mention in the minutes of the meetings, can be read in the next day’s newspapers. The State unit has been unable to groom five credible and articulate faces that can defend the party’s stand on the five major television channels in the State.
Most State leaders are accused of spending time in New Delhi trying to get some or the other post for themselves including chairmanship of Coir Board, Rubber Board or other institutions related to Kerala. In fact, most Central leaders view the State leaders with suspicion and see them as power hungry individuals who are least interested in strengthening the State unit.
Moreover, unlike in the case of the Left and the Congress, no major literary figure or intellectual has openly come out in support of the BJP. Actor Suresh Gopi is the only noted artist who has come out publicly in support of Mr Narendra Modi but he has not been effectively utilised by the party.
Further, unlike the Left and the Congress, which have over the years become mass movements in the State, the BJP is widely seen as confined to the religious or communal sphere. The party mostly takes up religious or nationalist issues. Some of the major issues it has taken up over the years include the creation of a separate Malappuram district for Muslims, the Tali temple-Nilakkal church controversy, and the Aranmula airport issue recently.
The BJP in Kerala does not take up day-to-day issues affecting the common man such as roads, power or pollution. If Mr Shah is indeed serious about the BJP gaining a strong foothold in the State, he will have to rectify the existing anomalies and take urgent measures to revamp the party on a war footing so as to make it battle ready for the local poll scheduled for September 2015.