Kerala: Political history

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Sabarimla impact: Left loses post in panchayat polls

November 28, 2018: The Times of India

Kerala Janapaksham won the vice-president’s post in Poonjar panchayat with the support of BJP. Both parties are on the same page on the Sabarimala issue. Soon after the victory, Kerala Janapaksham leader PC George said there would be cooperation between two parties at the state level.

George said he would request the Speaker to allot a separate block for him and BJP MLA O Rajagopal in the assembly so that they can be seated together. “We have reached an understanding for floor-level cooperation in the assembly. On Sabarimala, we share a similar view. We would like to extend that cooperation. We jointly walked out from the all-party meeting convened by CM Pinarayi Vijayan to discuss the Sabarimala issue,” said BJP state chief P S Sreedharan Pillai.

George’s constituency Poonjar is en route to Sabarimala. Therefore, BJP is aware that his support is vital for its prospects in this region. George can also act as a bridge between BJP and prominent Christian denominations and help the party widen its base.

George had said he didn’t treat BJP as a troublesome party. “We tried to forge an alliance with all parties and only BJP responded. That doesn’t mean we will join BJP; there will be an understanding for the time being,” he said. Janapaksham candidate Leelamma Chacko – who represents Valathookku ward – was elected with the support of Congress and the lone BJP member.

…but wins 21 of the 39 local body wards

In bypolls, LDF wins Sabari town’s faith, December 1, 2018: The Times of India

With victory in 21 of the 39 local body wards where bypolls were held in Kerala, the ruling LDF proved the gamble it took in the Sabarimala women entry issue has not set it back. On the pre-poll scoresheet too, LDF had 21 seats. BJP won two new seats but lost a sitting one to LDF.

The campaign for the bypolls was as fiery as any general election as it took place in the swirling controversy around entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala temple. The CPM-led LDF campaigned hard to convince voters about the position the Pinarayi Vijayan government took while Congressled UDF and BJP tried to cash in on religious sentiments hurt of reportedly the majority Hindu community.

BJP, which won two panchayat wards in Alappuzha district, cut a sorry figure in neighbouring Pathanamthitta district, where Sabarimala temple is located. In Pandalam municipality, the nerve centre of Sabarimala protest organised by Hindu outfits, BJP nominee polled 12 votes in the Kadakkad division, where SDPI, the political party of Muslim group NDF, emerged winner.

The loser in the polls was the Congress-led UDF which won 11 wards, losing five from its pre-poll tally of 16. SDPI won two seats against one it previously held. Independents won three wards. Tho- ugh LDF celebrates its win, vote shares of BJP and SDPI have grown substantially in at least some pockets.

BJP, which won two panchayat wards in Alappuzha, cut a sorry figure in Pathanamthitta, where the Sabarimala temple is located


BJP sowed Sabarimala, Congress benefitted

BS Anilkumar, Where Sangh Parivar sowed, Cong reaped, May 25, 2019: The Times of India

Sabarimala and the voting pattern in three constituencies.
From: BS Anilkumar, Where Sangh Parivar sowed, Cong reaped, May 25, 2019: The Times of India


BJP did all the hard work during the Sabarimala agitation but Congress walked away with the trophy. That is the story of the Kerala results, in which widespread resentment and anger among the majority community on the Sabarimala issue – and the minority consolidation that it, in turn, provoked – helped Congress sweep 19 out of the state’s 20 seats.

Hindu mobilisation on such an unprecedented scale in Kerala, as the Sabarimala issue precipitated, should have benefited the BJP, yet it did not. It was not for want of trying. Since last October, as the Pinarayi government tried to implement the Supreme Court order allowing entry of women between 10 and 50 to the shrine, the issue was a godsend for the Sangh Parivar and BJP to finally make its presence in a state where it had been organisationally strong for decades but electorally a marginal player.

BJP spearheaded the agitation that dragged on for almost three months -- hundreds of its cadres were arrested and sent to jail following protests across Kerala. The Hindu faithful recognised its efforts, yet when results came in, the sentiment did not translate into votes. BJP’s vote-share rose barely 0.5% up from 15.01% in 2016 assembly polls to 15.06 in 2019. Worse, it came a cropper in three seats where it fielded its strongest candidates, where the issue was expected to have most resonance.

What went wrong?

The main reason appears to be crossvoting by those sympathetic to BJP. If the idea was to teach the Pinarayi government a lesson, then Congress seemed the better option. Why waste votes on BJP candidates when the main battle was between LDF and UDF, so went the logic. There was also baggage associated with BJP; while most Hindus tended to identify with the party’s defence of Sabarimala traditions, they couldn’t stomach the mob lynchings and vigilantism the party was accused of condoning in other parts of India.

And with Rahul Gandhi deciding to contest from Wayanad, the pro-Congress sentiment intensified. In fact, Swami Chidanandapuri, a patron of Sabarimala Karma Samithy, whose speeches gave momentum to the anti-temple entry movement, went so far as to publicly appeal to Hindus to ensure LDF’s failure.

One other factor added to BJP’s poor showing in Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur where it fancied its chances. Nair Service Society, the organisation of upper caste Nairs, which vociferously defended belief and customs in Sabarimala and was one of the main petitioners in the Supreme Court, supported BJP’s agitation but refused to transfer its votes. They thought the problem could have been swiftly resolved if the Centre had brought in an ordinance to negate the SC verdict but which it did not. In the NSS’s eyes, this cast doubts about BJP’s intentions – was it a defender of traditions or was it merely exploiting Hindu sentiment?

So Congress, ridiculed as fence-sitters by the BJP, had the last laugh. Veteran BJP leader O Rajagopal – the party’s first-ever MLA in Kerala – captured it succinctly by citing a local adage: “Mannum chari ninnavan pennum kondu poyi’’ (‘the one who was shooting the breeze decamped with the girl’). This was evident from the fact that BJP’s best bet Kummanam Rajasekharan, who fought from Thiruvananthapuram where BJP finished second in 2014, actually got 1% less votes than last time. Shashi Tharoor who defeated Rajagopal with a margin of only 15,000 votes in 2014, won in 2019 by around one lakh votes.

BJP candidates made impressive strides in Pathanamthitta and Thrissur. In Pathanamthitta, the epicentre of the Sabarimala stir, BJP state general secretary K Surendran polled close to three lakh votes. But he finished third in a tight triangular fight. So did actor politician Suresh Gopi in Thrissur.

The aggrieved Hindu voter, it appears, had let down the BJP.

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