SAF­FRON RIS­ING

The BJP makes a con­certed bid to ex­pand its pres­ence in a state that has re­sisted it so far

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

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

IANS

MAY FARE K.J. Alphons and BJP workers cel­e­brate the party’s na­tional elec­tion win in Kochi, May 23

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