Bharatiya Janata Party’s biggest ally in the southern state of Kerala is heading towards an exit from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), upsetting party president Amit Shah’s strategy to repeat a Tripura in the country's lone remaining communist citadel.
The Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), which served as BJP’s bridge to the Ezhava community, informed BJP leadership that it will sever its three-year tie up by announcing its decision not to cooperate with the saffron party in the upcoming Assembly by-election at Chengannur in Pathanamthitta district.
The immediate reason for the decision is the denial of a Rajya Sabha seat to BDJS chief Thushar Vellappally after a section of the Kerala BJP allegedly spread rumours that he was going to be chosen by BJP national leadership.
A BDJS meeting held at Cherthala in Alappuzha district on 14 March termed it an insult to the party and the Ezhava community it represents. The party demanded action against those who are responsible for the alleged insult.
The meeting also expressed strong resentment against the BJP national leadership for its failure to fulfil its promise to accommodate BDJS leaders in government bodies. Thushar told reporters after the meeting the party would review the decision only after its demands are accepted.
BJP state spokesman JR Padmakumar said the BDJS decision was based on a mistaken assumption that the party considered Thushar’s name for the Rajya Sabha seat. He said the party never discussed the seat with BDJS and it had nothing to do with the rumours, dismissing them as a social media creation. He said the BJP state leadership would convey the feelings of the BDJS regarding its other demands to the party’s national leadership. He added that he hoped the BDJS would review its decision and work for the party candidate at Chengannur, which is home to a large section of Ezhava votes.
The by-election — necessitated by the death of incumbent Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA KK Ramachandran Nair — is considered as a litmus test for BJP’s ‘Mission Kerala’. A victory at Chengannur will be a big morale boost for party cadres ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The BJP is targeting 12 seats in the state in the general election.
However, it will be difficult for the BJP to pass the test without the support of BDJS, which is a force to be reckoned with in Chengannur, which has an equal mix of upper caste Nairs, lower caste Ezhavas and Christians. BJP candidate PS Sreedharan Pillai was able to finish a close third in the 2016 Assembly election because of the BDJS support. The party’s vote share was only a measly 5 percent in the 2011 election, when the Congress won the seat. It went up to 30 percent in 2016, when the CPM bagged the seat.
The BDJS support saw the Congress lose the seat for only the second time since 1970. The poll result showed that the BDJS’ alliance with BJP cost the Congress more than the CPM, which is in tune with the trend seen in rest of the state. The BJP was planning to consolidate its position by renominating its 2016 candidate. The party also expected to gain from the exit of Kerala Congress (M), which represents the Christian community, from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) after the last Assembly poll.
Pillai claimed he got a sizeable number of Christian votes in the last election. He calculated that the victory his party achieved in the eastern states would boost the confidence of the minority community in the BJP and bring him the support of a sizeable section of Christians. The BDJS move is apparently aimed at bringing down the BJP vote share in Chengannur. Thushar, who is the chairman of the NDA, is also trying to rally other smaller parties in the coalition behind its decision. He said that he will soon convene a meeting of all non-BJP parties in the NDA to discuss a common strategy.
CK Janu, chief Janathipathya Rashtreeya Sabha, a minor ally in the NDA, is also not happy with the way the BJP is leading the coalition. The prominent tribal leader, who led several struggles for the rights of the adivasis, had also alleged neglect in the NDA. Resentment has been brewing in the NDA ever since Alphonse Kannanthanam was inducted into the Narendra Modi ministry as Minister of State for Tourism. The BDJS hoped to get the berth as they claimed that promises made to the party when Amit Shah brokered the alliance included a ministerial position in New Delhi.
The party kept off several programmes organised by the NDA to protest denial of the ministerial berth. Though Amit Shah subsequently met the BDJS leader and offered to fulfil the commitments, it only remained on paper, which further fuelled resentment.
Thushar’s father Vellappally Natesan, who is the general secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), the socio-cultural organisation of the Ezhava community, has been urging party leadership to snap its ties with the BJP and join either the UDF or the Left Democratic Front (LDF). He said the alliance with the BJP had not benefitted the BDJS in any way. He opined that the BJP was giving the BDJS the cold shoulder as it was more inclined towards the forward community. Vellappally has been in touch with leaders in both the fronts for some time.
A meeting he had with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan last year led to speculation that the BDJS would join the LDF. However, sources in the CPM said party leaders had not evinced any interest in bringing the BDJS in to the LDF. However, Thushar is hopeful to get a berth for his party in the ruling front. He said he did not expect any problem since the CPM had joined hands with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by the Bengaluru blast accused Abdul Nassar Madhani.
Political observers view the BDJS' latest decision as part of its pressure tactics. NM Pearson, a Left-leaning political analyst, said that Thushar and his father were aware that the party would not have a say in either the LDF or the UDF. “The party is relevant only when it remains in NDA. I feel it will remain in the NDA if it is given a few positions in public sector undertakings. I am sure Amit Shah will ensure this since BDJS is important in BJP’s scheme of things,” Pearson told Firstpost.
BDJS, which contested 37 seats in 2016 Assembly election, ended up with 4.7 percent of votes. This is significant in the Kerala context since only few lakh votes separate the winner and loser in Assembly elections. Pearson feels that if the BJP is in a position to woo a substantial number of Ezhava voters, it will be able to win more seats. Ezhavas account for more than 50 percent of Kerala's Hindu population.
Updated Date: Mar 14, 2018 21:55 PM