The BJP makes a concerted bid to expand its presence in a state that has resisted it so far
God’s own country had, till recently, held against saffron forces. Even as the BJP conquered most of the north and made steady inroads east, cracking the south remained tough (except perhaps Karnataka). Hindu-majority Kerala alternated power between the Congress and the Left, but seemed reluctant to cede political space to the party that claims to speak for all Hindus. Even when the BJP tried to capitalise on the issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala, it was the Congress-led United Democratic Front that reaped the benefits of sharing the saffron stance, winning 19 of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP failed to win even a single seat, dashing hopes that may have risen after O. Rajagopal won the Nemom constituency in the 2016 state poll, opening the party’s account in Kerala.
The tide could well be turning now. With the BJP launching an aggressive membership campaign from June and the Left bleeding in the state, Malayalis, even from the minority communities, are joining the party in large numbers. Some 60,000 people entered the saffron fold through its missed call campaign launched in June. “Almost seven lakh new members
have joined the BJP in the state since June. Now we have 2.3 million members,” claims BJP state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai. “We have completed the first phase of our membership campaign in August. We are continuing our membership drive till next December; ultimately we will have 3.5 million members in Kerala.” The state is due for an assembly election in 2021 and the state BJP is in mission mode to expand its membership before the contest.
Meanwhile, on September 1, the Modi government announced the appointment of Arif Mohammad Khan as the governor of Kerala. The former Union minister, who had walked out of the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet over the Shah Bano case, has been a vocal supporter of the BJP on the triple talaq issue and on reform in the Muslim community.
“Kerala,” says Pillai, “has shed its anti-BJP posture and is leaning towards Narendra Modi’s development agenda.” National hype, too, has helped the mood in Kerala swing toward BJP. The dismantling of Article 370 has won the party support even among the young educated class. “Now, there is no stopping the BJP,” says Rajagopal.
Taking note of the emergence of the BJP in its strongholds, the CPI(M) state secretariat and state committee met in August to chart out a new action plan. “After the Lok Sabha poll, we conducted month-long house visits to sense the mood of the people. Based on the feedback, we have decided to implement drastic changes at the organisational level and issue a code of conduct for our leaders and cadre. They need to work hard at the grassroots level and with humility and compassion,” CPI(M) state secretary K. Balakrishnan told india today.
THE BJP CLAIMS IT HAS ADDED 700,000 MEMBERS SINCE ITS MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IN JUNE
MAY FARE K.J. Alphons and BJP workers celebrate the party’s national election win in Kochi, May 23