Analysis | Uphill task for BJP as it dithers on 'Holy Pathanamthitta'

Analysis | By dithering on Pathanamthitta, BJP's 'Congressisation' comes to the fore in Kerala
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The Bharatiya Janata Party has dithered. That is in Kerala for sure. It has displayed a Congress culture by failing to name a candidate for the Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha seat.

That was a contentious seat among its state unit leaders, as the line of thinking was that the saffron party could make gains in a constituency, which houses the pilgrim shrine of Sabarimala, the epicentre of an agitation carried out to “defend traditions”.

So why couldn't the BJP announce a candidate in a constituency where it sniffed a chance to win?

The answer is simple: intra-party strife. It is also complex vis-a-vis equations within the party are concerned: The state unit of the party is faction-ridden.

There are multiple factions that are trying to dictate how the saffron spread should pan out in Kerala.

And a prominent faction backs K Surendran, who could be perceived as a martyr for the Sabarimala cause after an apex court verdict which allowed women of all ages to enter the shrine. The BJP wanted that verdict to be overturned, citing traditional values.

And Surendran was in the forefront of the agitation that the party spearheaded to defend its self-proclaimed traditional moorings.

But when former Mizoram governor Kummanam Rajasekharan quit his post to jump into the electoral fray, the state leaders feuding over group affiliations lost another seat where they thought the BJP had a chance –Thiruvananthapuram.

It was almost a given that Kummanam would contest from the state capital, where the BJP can claim considerable pockets of influence.

The next best bet, according to the BJP state leaders, is Pathanamthitta.

So the tussle for who would contest from there assumed proportions above the party's clout in the constituency.

Pathanamthitta had been a UDF constituency, with even the sitting MP coming from the Congress fold.

And it has a sizeable Christian population unlikely to vote for the BJP.

But being in the vortex of the Sabarimala agitation, the BJP leaders somehow had the notion that it can wrest the seat.

Never before in the state had the BJP won a Lok Sabha election.

The last time it came close to achieving that feat was in Thiruvananthapuram, when Shashi Tharoor scraped through after a tough fight with party veteran O Rajagopal, who later on became BJP's first legislator in Kerala's history.

Lok Sabha Elections 2019 - India

The BJP cannot be faulted for this vaulting ambition. It sensed a surge of Hindu sentiments in the aftermath of the Sabarimala verdict and the resultant agitation pitchforked by it. It did gain sympathy among a section of Hindus hitherto hostile to the BJP.

But then, electoral matrix is a different ball game.

The BJP central leadership is now pampering to factional concerns within the state unit.

The state party president himself wanted to contest in Pathanamthitta but the RSS probably intervened to scuttle that hope.

Then union minister Alphons Kannanthanam was another aspirant.

Now he has been relegated to Ernakulam, another traditional Congress seat.

The 'Congressisation' of the BJP, which claims to be a cadre party, has come to the full glare of Kerala.

The Congress is also yet to announce its candidates for two seats – Wayanad, which it claims it has an upper hand, and the Vadakara seat. This is despite the fact that T Siddique and K Muraleedharan have started campaigns in these constituencies. But the AICC list released recently is yet to officially announce their candidatures, probably due to a similar situation prevailing in the grand old party.

This means, there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP, a taunt which is going to get louder as the CPM-led Left Democratic Front surges ahead, at least in the campaign front.

There is a vacuum in the national electoral scenario also as far as the BJP leadership is concerned.

Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley may not contest due to health reasons.

May be that is why BJP president Amit Shah himself is contesting from Gandhinagar, to give an impression that the party is serious about its claim to grab power for a second term.

That it denies senior leader L K Advani, once considered a natural choice for the PM's post after Vajpayee, another chance in the hustings is obvious.

The BJP list also gives credence to the LDF charge that soft candidates would be put up by the saffron party in many seats to assist the UDF.

The insinuation is that the candidature of K Muraleedharan in Vadakara is a give-and-take tacit formula reached by the UDF and the BJP in Kerala to check the CPM.

In paper, that theory holds ground no matter what the BJP and the Congress claim.

Politics is about managing perceptions. If the LDF is able to drive this perception to the electorate, it gives the ruling front an edge as of now.

Since there is no magic wand to tap the mind of the electorate, a wait till May 23 is the only option to figure out how a majority of voters in the southern state view these political machinations.  

There is talk that the state BJP leadership wanted an announcement on Pathanamthitta seat withheld. It was a message it intends to give its cadre, who had vociferously pleaded for K Surendran as candidate in the seat on Amit Shah's Facebook page.

The state leadership wanted to convey that the party would not succumb to pressure tactics.

Other theories are also doing the rounds. The BJP wants to ensure that its ally the BDJS would make Thushar Vellappally its candidate in Thrissur. So it is playing a waiting game. If Thushar is not in fray, Surendran could be pitched for Thrissur also.

Then there is talk about roping in a heavy-weight Congressman as its candidate.

Surendran may still get the lot, but the BJP has made its not-so-envious task a bit more complicated to achieve.

The BJP central leadership has maintained a stoic silence. But at times, silence speaks profoundly.

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