BJP may gain Dalit, BC votes; winning minorities will be hard
The Modi factor — Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — has positive and negative repercussions for the party’s election campaign in Kerala.
Mr. Modi had actually begun his campaign in the State by attending the 60th birthday celebrations of Mata Amritanandamayi and the 51st Dharma Meemamsa Parishad of the Ezhava community at the Varkala Sivagiri Madhom last year. This year, he inaugurated the convention of a faction of the Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha, the socio-cultural organisation of one of the leading Scheduled Caste communities in the State, in Kochi.
The strategy is clear. Being himself a member of a backward community in Gujarat, Mr. Modi knows that he could appeal to the Backward Classes (BC) in Kerala. However, in the highly polarised polity of Kerala, it is not easy to make inroads. The Scheduled Castes and the Backward Classes of the State are politically conscious, with many having Leftist leanings. However, the weakening of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), ideologically and politically, gives an opening to Mr. Modi in the State.
It is notable that Vellappally Natesan, Ezhava leader and general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, attended Mr. Modi’s function in Kochi, and explained himself later, saying that the BJP had largely shed its hardcore saffron agenda. A sizeable section of the Dheevara community of Mata Amritanandamayi was mobilised on Friday, under the aegis of the Sabha with support of the BJP, in protest against a book by a former resident of the Amritanandamayi Ashram that allegedly maligned the Ashram.
The Modi factor is indeed helping the BJP to some extent in lining up members of Dalits and Backward Classes behind it, whereas its previous attempts had failed in the electoral arena.
Equation with Church
Mr. Modi’s Hindutva policies and opposition to the Ranganath Commission report that recommended reservation for Muslims and other minorities and Scheduled Caste status for Dalits in all religions are not factors that endear him to minorities.
However, the Jacobite Syrian Christian and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church leaders have come out in praise of Mr. Modi, though none of the churches have officially supported him.
There are church leaders who think they should work out some electoral arrangement with the BJP so that a possible BJP government at the Centre would be approachable.
(It may be recalled that the then Indian Federal Democratic Party candidate P.C. Thomas won from the Muvattupuzha constituency in 2004 as a BJP ally. He was later disqualified for seeking Christian votes through his campaign materials).
However, nothing concrete has worked out so far in that direction.
View of cadre
Besides, there is opposition from BJP supporters against BJP candidates going all out to seek minority votes. The Hindu Aikya Vedi opposed the candidature of Alphons Kannamthanam in Pathanamthitta constituency. P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, who had adopted a policy of winning support from minorities when he was the State president of the party, also found it difficult to contest from the constituency because of this and other reasons.
Mr. Modi, for the Sangh Parivar organisations, is an opportunity for Hindu consolidation. The core values are not be sacrificed for political expediency.
The developmental agenda of Mr. Modi may appeal to the youth and the business class in the State. However, there is no large business community or IT crowd that Mr. Modi can influence in Kerala. Farmers may not find anything promising about Mr. Modi, considering reports about the plight of farmers in Gujarat.
The projection of Mr. Modi as coming to power at the Centre brings its share of woes for the State unit of the BJP. A scramble has already begun for expected spoils of office. (It is hoped that Kerala would get at least a junior ministership in the Modi Cabinet, besides other bonanza even if the State elects no BJP candidate to the Lok Sabha). This has brought divisions and infighting in the party. Unless contained, this could affect the party’s campaign for the elections.