BJP in a fierce battle for the Malayali mind

FPJ Bureau

With the campaign entering the last leg, the political parties have slipped into top gear. The top guns have hit the campaign trail with a vengeance, braving the sweltering heat. It is well and truly a no-holds-barred campaign in which no quarter is asked for and none given.

True, the principal contenders, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Congress-headed United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP-led National Democratic Front (NDA) are exuding confidence. But it is an election which is difficult to decipher, given the high stakes involved for the stakeholders and the complexity of the issues involved.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the star campaigner for the NDA, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has been the spearhead of the UDF campaign. Not to be left behind is the LDF which pressed into service all the top left leaders, including CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and his CPI counterpart Sudhakar Reddy.

The question uppermost in the minds of Keralites is: Will the Malayali mind retain its secular character or will Kerala politics undergo a tectonic shift by succumbing to the politics of polarization unleashed by the BJP-RSS combine? The Prime Minister’s accent has all along been on the Sabarimala factor without naming it directly.

The communists and the Congress have destroyed the culture and traditions of Kerala, thundered Modi in an attempt to polarize voters on religious lines. The traditions will be protected if the NDA retains power at the Centre, he promised the voters.

Modi detractors have, however, sought to expose the hollowness of the PM’s promise. What prevented him from coming out with an ordinance to protect the interests of Sabarimala devotees when his government enjoyed a comfortable majority? Modi had no answer to that.

Even the powerful Nair Service Socieity (NSS), which is a solid supporter of the Sabarimala devotees took exception to the Prime Minister’s remark. If he was really serious about protecting the traditions of Kerala, he should have brought in the requisite legislation now. Why wait for the future when there is no certainty of the BJP-led NDA retaining power at the Centre? That was the NSS poser to which Modi, of course, had no answer.

The Prime Minister also turned scathing tongue against Rahul Gandhi for taking refuge in a minority-dominated constituency like Wayanad, fearing defeat at Amethi. Modi was wrong on facts. First and foremost, Wayanad is not a minority-dominated constituency.

The Hindu voters form 49 per cent of the electorate. The Muslims and other minorities like Christians account for around 30 per cent. The attempt of the Modi-Amit Shah duo to play the communal card has fallen flat for the simple reason that Kerala is not Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat.

Of course, the Prime Minister’s meetings were well attended. That is no surprise. The BJP’s capacity to pull the crowds is known, given the huge resources at the party’s disposal and its formidable organizational machinery. But the spontaneity and the visible enthusiasm of the people who thronged the Rahul road-shows and rallies was missing. That was the glaring contrast.

And that is worrying the saffron camp.The mood in the Congress camp is upbeat. The bickering that marred the early campaigns and the initial doubts that may have assailed Congress minds vanished into thin air following the Rahul roadshows and rallies. The Gandhi scion electrified the Congress campaign and the mood of despondency turned into one of supreme confidence.

So much so Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullappally Ramachandran said it would be 20 out of the 20 for the UDF this time! There is no mistaking it. The Rahul factor has scared the daylights out of the BJP-RSS camp in particular and to some extent the LDF as well.

As for the LDF campaign, it has progressed with clockwork-like efficiency. The LDF enjoyed a clear edge as it was the first to be off the starting block. The front has managed to retain that edge. The predictions of various surveys have not dampened the front’s enthusiasm.

But it is evident that the LDF is worried about the impact of the Rahul factor. Before Rahul decided to contest from Wayanad, the LDF was confident of winning at least 14 out of the 20 seats. No longer so. The Front is putting up a brave front. There is a perception that Rahul has ‘spoiled the LDF party’.

The performance of the LDF would depend mainly on two factors. If there is a consolidation of the minorities in favour of the Congress as is being claimed all round, then that is bad news for the LDF. LDF leaders, of course, deny it. In support of their argument, they say the minorities backed the LDF in the last state Assembly election. And nothing has happened to alter that political scenario.

But it is also a fact that when it comes to the Lok Sabha election, especially this one, there is a feeling that at the national level, the Congress is the main challenger against the BJP. Therefore, the minorities would once again gravitate towards the UDF in Kerala.

Then there is the Sabarimala factor. However vehemently the CPI(M) leaders deny it, there is no doubt that the Sabarimala issue will affect the LDF’s poll prospects at least in a few constituencies in South and Central Kerala like Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur and Palakkad.

True, the LDF has shed its diffidence and defensive stand on the issue, and has gone on the offensive. But it has come a bit too late in the day, claim the LDF detractors. The Sabarimala issue will extract a heavy price on the LDF, they point out. Well, the answer lies in the womb of time. And on that depends the overall performance of the LDF. (—IPA Service)