Suresh Gopi: The Saffron star

The actor-turned politician made history in Kerala by getting elected as the first BJP Lok Sabha member from the State

Published - June 09, 2024 03:12 am IST

BJP candidate Suresh Gopi, who won a thumping victory in Thrissur.

BJP candidate Suresh Gopi, who won a thumping victory in Thrissur. | Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO

A popular scene from the 1994 Malayalam thriller Commissioner had the hero, an angry young police officer, taking on a Union Minister in public. The dialogues from that scene – meaning ‘Do you remember this face?’ – are still not forgotten by movie fans.

They were delivered by Suresh Gopi, who played a City Police Commissioner. The huge box office hit established him as a superstar of Malayalam cinema.

Three decades later, things have changed dramatically for Suresh. He is today tipped to be a Union Minister, in real life that is, after his stunning victory from Thrissur, Kerala, in the general election.

Not even Renji Panicker, who wrote all those scintillating dialogues in his scripts for Suresh, could have conceived the twists and turns in the actor-turned-politician’s life. The most dramatic of them all, perhaps, is the convincing win from the Lok Sabha constituency in central Kerala.

It is a historic victory, too – the first ever for the BJP from Kerala in a Lok Sabha election.

Suresh has indeed reasons to feel proud of his win. He was, after all, contesting for a party that didn’t have a single representative from among the 140 Assembly constituencies. In fact, the BJP has been able to produce just one MLA in the seven-decade-old Kerala Legislative Assembly (O. Rajagopal from Nemom in 2016).

His popularity as an actor has certainly helped. But, Kerala has never been too excited to vote for film stars just because they are film stars.

In fact, until actor Innocent won from Chalakudy in the 2014 general election, no star had tasted electoral success (K.B. Ganesh Kumar had won before, but he is seen as more of a politician and the son of a powerful Kerala Congress leader than an actor).

Innocent had contested as an Independent backed by the LDF. Another popular actor Mukesh then won successive Assembly elections from Kollam, representing the CPI(M).

Neither would have succeeded without the party’s backing. They may have gained from their stardom but what mattered more was the support of one of the two largest political parties in Kerala.

That wasn’t the case with Suresh.

Tough fight

It was obvious that he would need a considerable amount of support from voters beyond the National Democratic Alliance. And he was up against two experienced, popular candidates: V.S. Sunil Kumar of the Left Democratic Front and K. Muraleedharan of the United Democratic Front.

Muraleedharan’s candidature was, in fact, an afterthought by the Congress. The Congress decided to field him from Thrissur – rather than Vadakara, from where he had won at the last election – after his sister Padmaja Venugopal defected to the BJP. Their father, former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, had a strong association with Thrissur, though he had lost both the times he contested from there, to the Legislative Assembly and Parliament.

The move didn’t work. Muraleedharan was pushed to third place. He became the only UDF candidate to lose besides Ramya Haridas, the sitting MP from Alathur.

Suresh won by a margin of 74,686 votes. Though most people were surprised by his win, it shouldn’t come as a complete shock.

The BJP has been building a strong base in Thrissur, which reflected in the votes Suresh polled when he unsuccessfully contested the elections earlier, to Parliament and then the Assembly. Despite his defeats, he kept himself involved in Thrissur.

Besides his stardom, his reputation as someone keen to help the needy also may have appealed to the apolitical voter. He had also succeeded in highlighting the Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank scam that had put the LDF on the back foot.

The BJP must be thrilled that its decision to make Suresh a Rajya Sabha MP eight years ago has paid off. Just as Panicker and director Shaji Kailas were about their decision to make a series of films with Suresh back in the early 1990s. Before Commissioner, they had made Thalasthanam and Ekalavyan, the films that took Suresh on the path to superstardom. Till then, he was playing the villain or the supporting role to Mammootty or Mohanlal more.

Suresh had made his presence felt literally even before he became a hero. His best work came in films like Kaliyattam, which won him the National Award for the best actor, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha and Innale.

He now has an opportunity to work for the public.

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