BJP leaders in Kerala had feared that the Uri attack might sideline the state at the party’s national council meeting in Kozhikode. But the three-day crucial meet that concluded on Sunday, devoted considerable time for the host state. Though the next election in the state is due only in 2019, it figured prominently along with Uttar Pradesh and four other states that go to polls next year.
The party has already put the cadre in the state on their toes by giving them an ambitious target of winning 12 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and winning power in the state in the 2021 Assembly elections. The BJP wants a few seats from Kerala in the Lok Sabha in 2019 since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not expected to repeat its 2014 poll performance. The seats it may gain in Kerala could partly offset the loss elsewhere.
Hence the two leaders have asked the state unit to start preparations for the polls early by identifying candidates to be fielded for the 20 seats in the state. The BJP chief has even suggested that the state leadership should look for winnable candidates from outside the party fold. Political analysts consider the target an uphill task in a state like Kerala that defied the saffron surge for more than three-and-a-half decades. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amith Shah are confident that the party can achieve this and more.
Both the leaders are apparently relying on the martyrs the party has got in the state in the last three decades to help the NDA in the election. In fact, Modi feels that the sacrifice made by the partymen in Kerala can even inspire the BJP in the rest of the country. The party brought the political killings to national focus by compiling the sacrifices of the Sangh workers in a book. Releasing the book entitled ‘Ahuti’ on the sidelines of the national council meeting, Modi urged the media to discuss it at the national level.
“BJP workers have sacrificed their lives for the cause of democracy. Violence is not the right road to democracy. Ahuti must be discussed at the national level. People in the rest of the country should know what is happening in Kerala,” Modi said. A five-member national committee that toured the state to study the issue prior to the conclave, had squarely blamed the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) for the violence that claimed more than 200 lives in the northern district of Kannur alone in the last two decades.
The political killings, in fact, came up for animated discussion at the national council. The sacrifice the partymen made in upholding the Sangh ideology was even discussed with the same verve with which it referred to the 18 Uri martyrs, who were killed by terrorists on 18 September. The focus on political violence is believed to be part of a clear strategy by the BJP to make inroads into the Communist strongholds that the saffron party failed to accomplish by using muscle power all these years.
The BJP had targeted the CPI(M) support base by forging an alliance with Bharth Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a political outfit of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, a socio-cultural organisation of the backward Ezhava community. However, the alliance could not break the traditional kinship of Ezhavas with the CPI(M), which contained the damage by mounting a massive offensive against the alliance forged in violation of the teachings of Sree Narayana Guru, the spiritual guide of the Ezhavas, and highlighting the corrupt deals of SNDP top leadership.
The BJP hopes that the topic of political violence would strike a chord with the Ezhavas, who form the backbone of the communist movement, since the victims of the violence are poor workers.
To add to this, the party has sought to evoke the religious sentiments of the Hindus, who are backing the CPI(M), by highlighting its “anti-Hindu” stance on various Hindu rituals and traditions such as lighting lamps and signing religious hymns at public functions and entry of women at the Sabarimala hill shrine. However, the party is aware that it will not be able to fulfil its objectives without the support of minorities, who constitute nearly 44 percent of the population in the state. Though the party has been able to make little inroad into the Christian vote bank by forging alliance with certain organisations, Muslims, who constitute 26 percent of the population, has remained a hard nut to crack.
A subtle shift in BJP’s approach towards Muslims indicated by Modi in his speech at the national council may be intended to help the state unit of the party in wooing some of the Muslim organisations that support either the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) or the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF).
The CPI(M) is trying to prevent this by hardening its stand against BJP’s communal agenda. The CPI (M)'s attempt is to offset the loss of Hindu votes with the minority votes by projecting itself as the sole bulwark against communalism. In fact, the party has been engaged in physical confrontation with the Sangh Parivar mainly to cement its position as the protector of the minorities.
This paid off well in the last Assembly elections in which the LDF made major gains in both Muslim and Christian belts. The exit of the pro-Christian Kerala Congress (M) from the UDF after the electoral debacle has made matters further easy for the LDF. N N Pearson, a political commentator based at Kochi, said the CPI(M) was focusing on minorities as it had lost its ideological capacity in fighting the communal forces. It has been trying to contain the Sangh Parivar by taking them on physically.
"After it failed to yield the desired result, the CPI(M) started involving in Hindu festivals and celebrations. Now it is opposing some of the rituals. This shows the ideological vacuum and confusion in the current communist leadership," he said. Pearson told the Firstpost that the BJP was trying to gain roots in Kerala by making use of the ideological vacuum in the CPI(M) and the minority appeasement policy being pursued by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
"I am not surprised by the targets set by the BJP for 2019 and 2021. The saffron party may draw close to the target if the two fronts fail to mount an ideological battle against the Sangh Parivar," says Pearson. The Congress alleges a conspiracy by the BJP and the CPI(M) to knock the UDF off the political scene in the state. Former state Youth Congress president M Liju said that the CPI(M) was allowing the BJP to occupy the UDF space by concentrating on the minorities who supported it traditionally.
Liju said that the attempt by the LDF wass to weaken the UDF. They don’t mind the saffron party occupying the second space as long as they stay in the reckoning in the state. "Both the parties are trying to create an impression among the people that the future electoral battles in Kerala will be between the two. This may be the reason why the BJP remained silent on the Congress at the BJP national council meet despite the party being the BJP’s main opponent in four out of the five states where Assembly polls are due next year," says Liju.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President VM Sudheeran has dismissed the BJP’s poll calculations in Kerala as a day dream. He said that the BJP will never be able to occupy the UDF space as the saffron party had grown its maximum in the state.
Sudheeran said that the electoral setback the Congress suffered in Kerala was a temporary phenomenon. The party will bounce back before the next elections.