Kerala by-election: After BJP failed to cross magic mark in Karnataka, it may have to struggle to win in Chengannur

When Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crossed the half-way mark during in counting of votes in Karnataka in the morning on 15 May, ripples of the looming victory were felt more in Kerala. The state leaders had viewed it as a sign-board for the southern state.

They hoped to begin the saffron march to power from Chengannur in central Kerala. Former party state president PS Sreedharan Pillai was ready to accept the challenge by winning the Assembly by-election on 28 May. But, a last-minute swing in the trends in Karnataka saw Pillai beating a hasty retreat.

Pillai, who had lost the seat in the 2016 polls by a little over 10,000 votes, had hoped that the victory in Karnataka could change the ‘untouchability’ sentiment for BJP prevailing among a big section of Hindus and minorities in the state and help him bridge the gap in Chengannur.

 Kerala by-election: After BJP failed to cross magic mark in Karnataka, it may have to struggle to win in Chengannur

Representational image. AFP

Afer the party failed to cross the magic number and Congress sprung a surprise by extending support to the Janata Dal (S) to form a government in the neighbouring state, the BJP camp plunged into gloom. Political observers feel that the new alliance would boost the morale of anti-BJP forces.

The alliance will have its immediate repercussion in Chengannur where the Congress is fighting the election highlighting the anti-people policies of both the central and state governments. If the political uncertainty in Karnataka continues, the central leaders of the BJP may not be available to defend the party.

Earlier, there were talks of BJP chief Amit Shah camping in Kerala and monitoring the by-election to make sure that the party wins the seat. If Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala gives the party the first opportunity to form a government as the single largest party in the Assembly, Shah and senior leaders of the party are likely to remain tied to Karnataka leaving the state leaders to fend for themselves.

Pillai was initially reluctant to enter the fray at Chengannur. He changed his mind after the party recorded a resounding victory in the Tripura Assembly election. The Tripura result had charged up the workers so much that an overenthusiastic party worker had even called up Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan directly on his phone and challenged him.

The BJP workers celebrated the Communist Party of India (Marxist) rout in Tripura by trolling the party heavily on the social media. They taunted the party by calling it as the Communist Party of Kerala and predicted its doom in the southern state too in the next Assembly election.

If the party had mustered the required majority to form a government on its own in the neighbouring state, it would have put the Congress on the defensive. Now even if BJP forms a government with the help of ‘disenchanted’ MLAs in the Congress and JD(S) camps, it may not help the saffron party.

On the contrary, the horse-trading charge it will throw up may mar whatever little chance the party has in Chengannur with both LDF and UDF mounting a combined attack on BJP. Horse-trading may drown all other issues in Chengannur if the party opts for the short-cut to power in Karnataka.

The BJP may find it difficult to counter the combined assault. The party is already on a slippery ground over the support of its second largest ally— the Bharatiya Dharama Jana Sena (BDJS) —which is keeping off the campaign in protest against the denial of the spoils of administration.

Though the BDJS leadership has appealed to the party supporters to vote for the BJP candidate, party chief Thushar Vellappally himself has expressed doubt about how many will heed the leadership call without redressing the party’s grievances. The BDJS claims to have 41,000 votes in Chengannur.

The appeal was issued after he got assurances that Amit Shah will take the initiative to sort out the issues with the BDJS after the Karnataka election. However, he is doubtful about a solution before the by-election as the BJP chief will be busy in Karnataka till the issues there are solved.

Thushar’s father and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam chief Vellapplly Natesan has termed the wait futile and urged the BDJS to explore other options if the party wants to remain politically relevant in the state.

He claimed that the BJP will not be able to win the Chengannur seat without the support of the BDJS. He said that the BJP could increase its votes in Chengannur from a mere 6,062 votes in the 2011 Assembly election to 42,682 votes in 2016 after the BDJS had joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Sreedharan Pillai has exuded confidence that he will get the full support of the BDJS. He told Firstpost that the party had discussed all issues with the BDJS leadership and they were convinced that BJP will fulfil all the promises it has given to the BDJS.

He said that he was hopeful that he can win the election in Chengannur. He said that he had got 16 percent votes in the last election because of the support from all sections of the people. “Even Christians voted for me in 2016, in spite of the Opposition labelling the BJP as an anti-minority party,” he added.

The bypoll, necessitated following the death of sitting CPM MLA KK Ramachandran Nair, in January this year is crucial for the BJP. A win here will give a much-needed boost to Shah’s plan of conquering Kerala.

Nair had wrested the seat, which was held by Congress for close to three decades, by beating young Congress leader and the then sitting PC Vishnunath by 7,893 votes. While the CPM candidate got 52,880 votes and Vishnunath bagged 44,987 votes. The BJP candidate came third with 42,682 votes.

Though the saffron party has been in electoral politics in Kerala ever since the formation of the party, it could win a seat in the Legislature only during the 2016 elections. Senior leader O Rajagopal had won the Nemom seat in Thiruvananthapuram district in a fierce triangular contest.

Barring once, the party has never come in the second position in the Lok Sabha elections so far. The party ended runner-up in Thiruvananthapuram in the 2014 elections with a vote share of 32.32 percent. Amit Shah has set a tall target of winning 12 LS seats in the coming election in the state.

BJP has not been able to make a headway in Kerala as it was fighting the elections without major allies till 2016. It was after long efforts, the party managed to convince the SNDP to float a party.  The party’s vote share shot up from 6.03 percent in 2011 to 10.58 percent in 2016 after the BDJS joined the NDA.

With cracks in the NDA and no sign of any other party joining the NDA, the BJP may have to struggle hard to accomplish Shah’s ambitious plans in Kerala.

Updated Date: May 16, 2018 21:26:59 IST