Thiruvananthapuram: Sixteen Union ministers, four chief ministers, one deputy chief minister, 25 MPs and MLAs and 10 national leaders, most of them from the north, joined the Janaraksha Yatra organised by the BJP to achieve its mission of 'conquering' Kerala.
But the managers of the 15-day march from Payyannur to Thiruvananthapuram led by state BJP chief Kummanam Rajashekharan are busy taking stock of the damage some of these leaders have done to the party’s cause instead of evaluating the success of the yatra as it concluded in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.
BJP national president Amit Shah joined the rally on its last leg from Marty’ Column at Palayam to Putharikandam Maidan. He walked along party cadres in the three-km stretch and addressed a public meeting.
Though the march was organised as a build-up for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the party may have to spend a lot of time to undo the damage these leaders have done. The yatra sent out a negative message in the first leg itself when Shah quit the march mid-way.
The retreat was interpreted in political circles as a sign of his disappointment with the low turnout, infighting within the party and its failure to take its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) along. The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) used this to declare the yatra as a flop.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath gave enough ammunition to the party’s critics the next day when he sought to compare the healthcare in his state with that of Kerala, which has received international acclaim for its health indices and harped on his pet theme -- love jihad.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan countered Adityanath well by thanking him for letting the country know about the state’s achievements in the health sector. The marchers abandoned the topic after Pinarayi made a comparison between the Infant Mortality Rate in Kerala (10) and that of Uttar Pradesh (43).
Newly-appointed Union minister from the state Alphons Kannanthanam made himself a target of attack by harping on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s toilet vis-a-vis petrol price philosophy. He was trolled extensively in the social media for making such a statement in the 100 percent defecation-free as well as consumer state, where the rise in petrol and diesel prices will have a huge impact.
The opposition led by the Congress sought to seize the opportunity by organising a day and night protest on 5 October and a hartal on 16 October against the increase in prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas and other anti-people policies of Modi government.
The biggest damage to the yatra, however, came from BJP national secretary Saroj Pandey, who kicked off a controversy by threatening to gouge out the eyes of CPM workers if they continue to show their eyes to her party workers in Kerala. The outburst at Durg in Chattisgarh district on Sunday is being described as a call for violence and against the yatra’s focus on the CPM violence. A film actor has lodged a complaint with the police against the BJP leader.
Yatra captain Kummanam struggled a lot to wriggle out of the controversy when newsmen cornered him during the course of the march in Thiruvananthapuram district. He tried to defend his party colleague by saying the statement was a strong plea to the CPM to end violence.
Goa chief minister Manohar Parikkar, who joined the Janraksha Yatra at Kollam on 15 October, ruffled feathers by calling Pinarayi and his team rogues. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has taken a strong exception to the comment and sought his removal for the offensive remark.
Most of the leaders, who participated in the march, have tried to portray Kerala in a poor light. But what has aroused concern in political circles is the extension of the ‘malicious campaign’ to New Delhi and other state capitals.
The yatra turned out to be big a feast for the social media with the users flooding Twitter and Facebook with sarcastic comments against leaders, who participated in the march, and their statements. They ridiculed attempts by the leaders to portray Kerala in a bad light.
Political observers feel that the negative portrayal of the state may boomerang on the BJP since it has hurt the pride of the people. NM Pearson, a political analyst based in Kochi, said that the pride factor could go against BJP in the coming election. The LDF and the UDF are sure to evoke the feelings during their yatras in the next few weeks.
Pearson told the Firstpost that the yatra could have struck a chord with the people if it highlighted the issues concerning them. Instead, it laid sole focus on Red and Jihadi terror that most people have viewed as exaggerated claims of the BJP.
"People will not take BJP’s charges against the CPM seriously as they know that the saffron party and the RSS too are equally responsible for the culture of violence prevailing in the northern parts of the state. Both sides have lost an almost equal number of lives in the violence going on in Kannur district for more than four decades," he said.
Pearson said BJP’s attempt to describe the ‘jihadi terror’ as a threat to the Hindus in the state may also have no takers in the state. Even Hindus may not share the party’s perception. He has pointed out the result of the Vengara by-election, in which the BJP suffered an erosion in its vote share, as a clear indication of the rejection of the BJP claim by the Hindu voters in the constituency.
Though more than 30,000 out of 1.7 lakh electorate at Vengara are Hindus, the BJP candidate there could not even muster a quarter of the Hindu votes. The 5,728 votes that the party candidate has polled at Vengara is less than its 2016 tally of 7015 votes. Pearson views this as a sure sign that the Janraksha Yatra had failed to consolidate the Hindus behind BJP.
Jacob George, a senior journalist-based in Thiruvananthapuram, said that the BJP was trying to make inroads in Kerala by communally dividing people as the saffron party has done in northern states. The communal engineering will not succeed in Kerala, where people belonging different communities have been living in harmony for centuries, he said.
"The BJP has failed to read the mind of Keralites. The strategy worked out by the BJP national leadership to win 12 seats in the coming Lok Sabha election will not work. It has been worked out by people who are unaware of the ethos of the people in the 100 percent literate state," Jacob said.
"The yatra will not help the BJP to further improve its poll performance. Both the LDF and the UDF have solid vote banks in the state. BJP cannot easily penetrate into it. The 15 percent votes the party has secured in the 2016 election is the optimum that BJP can get in Kerala. To climb further is very difficult," he said.
However, the BJP has termed the yatra as a big success. Party general secretary MT Ramesh said that huge turnout at the rallies held as part of the Janaraksha Yatra was a sign of rising support base of the party.
"The CPM workers had gone to every house at Pinarayi and persuaded the people to stay indoors when the yatra passed through the area. But several hundred people came out of their homes in the Marxist bastion to wish the yatra a success," he said.
He said that the criticism against the yatra from both LDF and UDF leaders clearly showed that the yatra had an unsettling effect on them. They are rattled by the new ground that BJP is making in the state.
The next election will say whether the Janaraksha Yatra was a success or failure. But it has certainly helped the BJP to galvanise its cadres, who were demoralised by the medical college and counterfeit currency scams.
Updated Date: Oct 20, 2017 19:04 PM