Cabinet reshuffle: Alphons Kannanthanam is part of Narendra Modi's 2019 plan, but BJP's Kerala unit feels otherwise
BJP's Kerala is not hopeful that Alphons Kannanthanam will be able to rally Christian support in Kottayam, but if he manages to win, it will be advantage Narendra Modi
The induction of bureaucrat-turned politician Alphons Kannanthanam into the Union cabinet has come as a big surprise to the state unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It had expected either state president Kummanam Rajashekharan or Suresh Gopi, party’s lone Rajya Sabha member, to be in the ministry when they made a strong bid for representation to the southern state in the Narendra Modi government.
But party’s master strategist Amit Shah had other plans in his mind when he pitched for Alphons, who is currently a member of the BJP’s national executive committee, for the ministerial berth. Shaw saw in him a potential candidate who could win a seat for the party from Kerala in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Therefore, none will be surprised if BJP fields Alphons as one of its candidates in the upcoming elections. The BJP leader has Kottayam Lok Sabha constituency in his mind for Alphons, who had made a plunge into politics after resigning from government service in 2006.
Nobody can question the BJP chief’s logic since both Alphons, who belongs to the Christian community, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have a major support base in the constituency.
While Alphons, who hails from Manimala in Kottayam district, had won an election to the state assembly from Kanjirappally under the Kottayam Lok Sabha constituency in 2006, the NDA had won its first Lok Sabha seat in the state from nearby Muvattpuzha.
A major part of the Muvattupuzha constituency, where PC Thomas had won the 2004 polls as an NDA ally, is now under Kottayam, where Christians form a major chunk of the electorate. Thomas, who had quit NDA after it lost power in the 2009 polls, is once again back in its fold now.
The BJP believes that they can win the seat by consolidating the support base of Alphons and Thomas. As for Thomas, he could be shifted to a nearby constituency in case he insists on fighting the election. While Thomas enjoys the support of conservative Christians, Alphons is popular among the liberals, who have drifted away from the influence of the Church.
This could be a reason why Alphons could win his maiden contest at Kanjirapally, a stronghold of the United Democratic Fron, as a Communist Party of India (Marxist)-supported candidate by a margin of more than 10, 000 votes.
The CPM could win the seat only once before that in 1987 by a margin of around 4,000 votes by fielding a prominent Christian as its candidate. The Congress has been holding the seat mostly with the support of the Church during the rest of the time.
Besides his Christian origin, the 1979 batch IAS officer is also known in the district as the architect of the literacy movement. He earned the distinction as a pioneer of the literacy movement in India by making Kottayam the first 100 percent literate town in the country during his tenure as district collector in 1989.
His subsequent drive against illegal constructions in New Delhi as the Commissioner of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) brought him the image of a crusader against corruption. Therefore, Alphons can be an apt candidate for BJP when it plans to fight the coming election on the strength of the anti-corruption image of the Modi government.
The BJP had earlier tried to rope in Kerala Congress (M) into the NDA fold by offering ministerial berth to its lone MP Jose K Mani but the party did not push it in view of the case against party supremo KM Mani in the bar bribery case.
His induction into the Cabinet would have put the party on the defensive in Kerala at a time when the state leaders are battling with various graft cases, including the medical college admission scam. The BJP has targeted 12 seats from Kerala in the 2019 polls.
Kasargod and Thiruvananthapuram are the two seats that the party could win on its own. The BJP needs to muster more support in the remaining 18 constituencies. The scope for consolidating the Hindu votes is limited in many of these constituencies.
While the upper caste Nair community has been steadfastly rejecting the BJP postures, the newly formed political party of the lower caste Ezhava community — the Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) — has even started drifting away from the NDA.
Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) general secretary, Vellapally Natesasn, who is the main architect of the alliance between BDJS and the BJP, has even urged the party to come out of the NDA. The party was hoping to get a berth in the Union Cabinet. The present reshuffle, therefore, might alienate the party further from the NDA.
This leaves the BJP with only the minority communities, who constitute about 45 percent of the state’s population. The BJP does not expect the support of the Muslims, who account for 26 percent of the population, as the state leadership of the party has been taking a strident anti-Muslim stand. The Muslims in Kerala consider BJP’s Hindutva agenda a threat to their faith.
Therefore, the BJP considers Christians important in their scheme of things. Since his appointment as the state president, Rajashekharan has been trying to build bridges to the Christian community by engaging with different denominations. He has been even trying to replicate the Goa model in Kerala by building up a pro-minority image.
It was easy for BJP to rope in Christians in Goa since they belonged to mostly one rite-Catholic Latin. The Christians in Kerala, on the other hand, are divided into numerous denominations. The Catholics themselves are divided into Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.
It is not easy to unite them politically when there is no unity among them even in the matters of faith and rituals.
The state leaders of BJP are not hopeful of Alphons being able to rally Christian support as he is not considered as a Christian leader. However, if he can win even one seat for the BJP in the 2019 General Election to Lok Sabha, it will be a significant milestone for the party in a state like Kerala where it has managed to win only one seat in the Assembly since it started fighting the elections in 1987.
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