O Rajagopal was 86 years old when he won an election for the first time in Kerala, defeating the sitting MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) of Nemom, V Sivankutty. Five years later, as another election is around the corner, Rajagopal said he is not contesting; his age and health won’t permit him to. He turned 91 last September. For nearly five decades before that, he, as the single most prominent face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala, contested several elections in the Parliament as well as the Assembly. Though he had lost them all before the Assembly elections of 2016, Rajagopal became the reason for BJP’s increased vote share every year. The party now claims a 15% share of the votes in Kerala. He also won for the BJP its first Assembly seat in the state. What Rajagopal has to say therefore, is given a lot of attention, especially during election time.
A week ago, he spoke about a ‘political adjustment’ or cross voting between parties – specifically the BJP, the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) – at election time. During an indoor interview with Asianet News, he denied the BJP ever having such an ‘adjustment’ with the Left parties and casually mentioned the CoLeBi (pseudonym for Congress-League-BJP) alliance. His party agreed to it only when it could favour the BJP, he said in passing. By his demeanour, it’s obvious he didn’t think it was a big revelation. It’s something everybody knows, he said with a wave of his hand.
During that interview he had not mentioned such ‘adjustments’ happening in his own constituency of Nemom, but dropped the names of Manjeswaram and Ottappalam. Manjeswaram is one of the constituencies that BJP’s current state president K Surendran is contesting from.
However, in another interview to Kairali News, he also added Nemom to the list. He received Congress votes during the 2016 Assembly election, he said. Perhaps they (the Congress) felt it important that a representative of the party governing the country should be in the state Assembly, Rajagopal said.
Nemom had come under a lot of scrutiny after the 2016 election. It was not only Rajagopal’s first election victory in Kerala, but also the BJP’s first Assembly seat in all these years in the state. Amid the party celebrations, angry voices of the Left alleging cross-voting by Congress men were brushed aside. The Congress and its allies of the United Democratic Front (UDF) denied any such ‘understanding’.
However, around the same time Rajagopal spoke of CoLeBi, V Surendran Pillai – the UDF candidate from Nemom that year who received a lowly 9.7% of the votes – also claimed that such an ‘understanding’ was there. He has been upset by the UDF’s explanation that it was fielding a weaker candidate that cost them the seat. He was no weak candidate, he had won twice before from different seats and become a minister too, Surendran said in an interview to The Hindu
Though few took notice of Surendran’s outburst, Rajagopal’s calm revelations could not be ignored. Soon after that first interview to Asianet, he gave another to the Indian Express, in which he praised the state’s incumbent Communist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and spoke of the state’s excellent literacy rates being a reason for the BJP not becoming prominent in Kerala. The literacy made Kerala residents thinking, argumentative people, he said. He then described CM Pinarayi as one who could manage things.
Unsurprisingly, Rajagopal’s series of interviews was not doing the BJP a lot of good. A few days earlier, during a media interaction, Rajagopal described the UDF candidate in Nemom – K Muraleedharan – as a strong one. Kummanam Rajasekharan, who is the BJP’s candidate from the constituency for the 2021 election, was not pleased. In an interview to TNM, he refused to comment about the senior leader’s comments. “I know only about Nemom. I work for the overall development of Nemom. So, if I have to say anything about Nemom, I will,” he said.
In all these disclosures, Rajagopal is not trying to belittle his party in any manner. While he expresses his hopes of the ‘lotus blooming’ in Nemom and a few other constituencies too this year, he does not swallow opinions that could paint a pretty picture of the opponent parties.
It’s not a new habit either. In 2016 when it was time to elect a Speaker in the Assembly, Rajagopal surprised everyone by casting his vote for the LDF’s P Sreeramakrishnan. He said later that the UDF had said it didn’t want the lone BJP member’s vote and Sreeramakrishnan was someone he knew well.
All this has prompted UDF leaders to allege that the Left had an understanding with the BJP. Mullappally Ramachandran, the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, said there was a ‘secret deal’ between Rajagopal and the CPI (M).
The Congress wouldn’t forget the budget session of the Assembly earlier this year. When it opened with Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s speech, the Opposition UDF had protested, raised slogans against the government and finally walked out. However, Rajagopal had remained in the Assembly. In one of the recent interviews, Rajagopal says that perhaps the Congress also considered that he was one person who has been ‘trying’ for a long time – when they ‘cross-voted’. He has been contesting since 1970. There were three Assembly elections before his 2016 victory and two bye-elections. There were also three Lok Sabha polls for one of which he had given a very close race to three-time MP Shashi Tharoor. Rajagopal did go to Parliament as a member of the Rajya Sabha twice and also became a Union Minister with the NDA. But he would perhaps be most remembered for becoming the first BJP MLA in Kerala.
In one of the recent interviews, Rajagopal says that perhaps the Congress also considered that he was one person who has been ‘trying’ for a long time – when they ‘cross-voted’. He has been contesting since 1970. There were three Assembly elections before his 2016 victory and two bye-elections. There were also three Lok Sabha polls for one of which he had given a very close race to three-time MP Shashi Tharoor. Rajagopal did go to Parliament as a member of the Rajya Sabha twice and also became a Union Minister with the NDA. But he would perhaps be most remembered for becoming the first BJP MLA in Kerala.