BJP sets its sights on community votes in Kerala

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A view of the crowd during a public meeting addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Unseen) in support of Union Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Thiruvananthapuram seat Rajeev Chandrasekhar for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, at Attingal, in Thiruvananthapuram.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Having elbowed its way into the State’s bipolar polity, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be aiming at a slice of the pie of the pressure groups of the Hindu communities and the interest groups of the minorities, especially Christians, in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Historically, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)]-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) have consistently reaped the electoral rewards of these communities. However, since the BJP assumed power at the Centre in 2014, the party has been proactively cultivating ties with these groups, resulting in a surge in support from communities such as the Nairs and Ezhavas/Thiyyas.

Growing influence

While garnering around 35% of the Nair vote share and 20% of Ezhava/Thiyya votes, recent elections have revealed the BJP’s influence growing among marginalised groups such as Dalits, Other Backward Classes, and tribal communities, as indicated by post-poll surveys conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Unquestionably, the BJP has taken a leaf out of the Congress or its allies’ book to build bonhomie with the leadership of the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam. Even then the party leaders know that it will be unable to execute in Kerala the subaltern Hindutva project like in north India. Hence, they recognise the necessity of the support of the Christian community.

Choice of candidates

This dynamics is observable in the selection of candidates and the shift in community allegiance not only in high-profile constituencies but across all 20 Lok Sabha seats. As such, the BJP central leadership has nominated Rajeev Chandrashekar in Thiruvananthapuram, V. Muraleedharan in Attingal, Anil K. Antony in Pathanamthitta, Suresh Gopi in Thrissur, C. Krishnakumar in Palakkad, and Shobha Surendran in Alappuzha. Apart from the unpredictability of a three-way battle in these constituencies, the intention of the party is to run a strong campaign against the Congress, a senior leader said.

However, the BJP has to surpass the psychological threshold of 20% vote share to really muscle its way into the complex fabric of the State’s coalition politics. Thus it is capitalising on its two consecutive terms in power by deliberately engaging with various denominations of the Church. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s frequent visits to Kerala and meetings with bishops and cardinals, the response from Church leaders has been tepid. Nevertheless, the BJP anticipates gaining a share of Christian votes, especially with the Catholic Church screening the controversial film The Kerala Story on the so-called ‘love jihad.’ The clergy and the laity are keenly aware of their interest groups, including non-governmental organisations, requiring the support of the BJP at the Centre.

Lack of leadership

Besides, both the BJP and the Church very well know that, at present, the Christian community lacks a leader of the calibre of the late Chief Minister Oommen Chandy or K.M. Mani to politically negotiate and pull strings during an election. The absence of former Defence Minister and Congress leader A.K. Antony from active politics leaves the community without a guiding figure.

Though the political gambling of Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K. Mani yielded electoral results, he has been unable to emerge as one of the helmsmen for the Christian community. This is where the Church may have to turn to Anil K. Antony, who has swiftly risen within the ranks of the BJP than many other prominent leaders in the State. The support he receives from Mr. Modi further strengthens his position.

Votes divided

Previously, Christians largely voted in favour of the Congress along with the Kerala Congress (M). However, after the latter switched loyalty to the Left coalition, the community votes have been divided. Now, with a perceived anti-incumbency factor brewing ahead of the election in the State, the BJP would also secure a portion of the Christian votes, a functionary said.

While the party leadership may strive for a share of influence among various community groups, its electoral effectiveness remains to be seen.

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