KERALA: BEEF TRIPS UP THE BJP
A late afterthought to appease the Muslim voter backfires on the saffron party
The Malappuram Lok Sabha bypoll in Kerala shut the backdoor rather tight on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to gain a toehold in the state. Malappuram simply voted the way it always has, with P.K. Kunhalikutty of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) polling over 515, 000 votes and romping home with a margin of 171,000 votes. It was almost a repeat of 2014 when the late E. Ahamed beat the rest by 194,739 votes.
Although the verdict was more or less a foregone conclusion and neither the BJP nor the ruling Left Democratic Front fancied their prospects, both parties fought vigorously to try and consolidate their respective vote shares. For the BJP, Malappuram was crucial to prove that the party has a future in Kerala. It fielded N. Sreeprakash, a Hindu lawyer, hoping to consolidate the 24 per cent Hindu voters scattered across the constituency’s seven assembly segments. It just wasn’t to be.
“Beef drowned us,” says a senior state BJP leader. “Our campaign was misdirected and mismanaged. We should have focused on the
Modi government’s good governance and developmental issues.” The ‘beef’ here was the party’s decision to change tack mid-campaign and try to woo the Muslim vote when they realised things were not going well. And this they did with the party candidate promising “quality beef” from hygienic slaughterhouses if the party won. Predictably, the national leadership frowned upon the tactical shift. And the confusion quite sank the saffron boat (Sreeprakash managed a meagre 65,000 votes).
The CPI(M), on the other hand, set for themselves a more realistic target. Their limited purpose was to notch up a respectable number of votes for their nominee, since a big loss would reflect badly on the popularity of the less-than-a-year-old Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government. Party members heaved a sigh of relief when it was declared that their candidate won 340,000 of the total 900,000-plus votes polled.
CPI(M) central committee member A. Vijayaraghavan says, “Being an IUML stronghold, we fought the Malappuram election to reduce the margin of victory and consolidate anti-IUML votes. We were successful in achieving our target.” Tongue in cheek, he added that the “BJP’s dismal performance is a bonus”. The beef bogey continues to haunt the BJP in Kerala.
24 PER CENT of the voters were Hindu in IUML-dominated Malappuram
RED BETTER THAN ORANGE? LDF candidate M.B. Faisal (with garland) on the last day of the campaign