Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader P.P. Mukundan, 77, widely reckoned as the architect of an arguably covert and purported anti-communist electoral alliance with the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala in the 1990s, passed away at a private hospital in Kochi on Wednesday. Doctors attributed the cause of his death to a respiratory illness.
Mr. Mukundan, a bachelor, cut his political teeth as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist in the Kannur district in the early 1980s.
The restive period saw a spurt in tit-for-tat violence between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and RSS cadres in the viscerally politicised North Kerala region.
The brutal inter-party violence in Kannur, characterised by waylayings, ambushes, arson and high-profile murders, would frame Mr. Mukundan’s political outlook.
At the time, the BJP was an electoral nonentity in the State with no Lok Sabha, Legislative Assembly or local body representation. The party acutely felt it had no pulpit to vocalise its woes against CPI(M) “violence”.
A persistently painful feeling of being hounded prompted BJP leaders like Mr. Mukundan to find a tactical electoral ally in the Congress and IUML to hold out against CPI(M) aggression. The BJP direly needed its woes to be heard in the Assembly, at least by proxy.
It helped the BJP that K. Karunkaran, a professed anti-communist and shrewd tactician, sat at the apex of the Congress organisation in Kerala in the 1990s.
In 1991, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) came to power in Kerala. Congress leader K. Karunakaran took oath as Chief Minister, arguably with the implicit backing of Sangh Parivar forces. At the time, Mr. Mukundan was the powerful organising secretary of the BJP in Kerala. O. Rajagopal was in charge of the election campaign.
The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, buoyed by the ruling alliance’s good showing in the local body elections, had, with hindsight, erroneously, held the Assembly election one year before the administration’s term expired. The outcome caught the CPI(M) unawares.
An incensed LDF derisively termed the purported Congress-Indian Union Muslim League(IUML)-BJP compact the “Co-Li-Bi” alliance.
The CPI(M) has since remained extremely wary of the supposed entente and repeatedly pointed to the “covert and politically amoral CO-LI-BI syndicate” to explain away electoral setbacks.
In a series of interviews with newspapers and television channels in 2021, Mr. Mukundan said the murder of several RSS and BJP workers by “CPI(M) activists” prompted the electoral gambit.
“It was not an electoral alliance but an overt understanding. The sorrow of bereft RSS families was the moving spirit behind the decision and not any other motive,” Mr. Mukundan had said.
In the 1990s, Mr Mukundan was also the convenor of the BJP-led anti-CPI(M) aggression forum. The BJP strongly believed that CPI(M) “aggression” would abate under UDF rule.
Mr. Mukundan also strongly felt that the kin of party martyrs stood a better chance of getting justice under the Karunakaran-led United Democratic Front (UDF) disposition. The “concord” reflected strongly in elections in Beypur, Vadakara, Manjeshwaram and Thiruvananthapuram.
Mr. Mukundan’s political stature climbed. The CPI(M) eyed him warily as a strategist who could make the difference between victory and loss in local body elections and upwards.
With the BJP coming into its own in Kerala, the party pushed the purported “Co-Li-BI” compact to the political back burner.
The earlier tactical alliances with the UDF also proved double-edged for Mr. Mukundan subsequently. He faced criticism in his own party for being “beholden to Karunakaran, playing the power broker by trading BJP votes to help his benefactor”.
In 2006, the BJP expelled him. At the time, he was a member of the party’s national executive. Ten years later, the BJP would welcome Mr. Mukundan back to its fold. By that time, the veteran leader had become an outlier in Kerala politics.
In the party, Mr. Mukundan invoked strong loyalty among hard-core cadres. He remained idealogically committed to the RSS till his last days. Senior BJP leaders have condoled his death and reminisced about his stellar organisation-building role.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan condoled Mr. Mukundan’s death. He portrayed him as the face of Sangh Parivar politics in Kerala for decades.