VHP spoils BJP’s ambitious plan for Kerala

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) has upset the BJP’s applecart in Kerala. The VHP’s aggressive reconversion campaign in Kerala has been a blessing in disguise, according to a section of the so-called ‘secular forces’.

The deafening silence maintained by both BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the face of the belligerent VHP campaign has deepened the misgivings of religious minorities in the State. A word of disapproval from Modi would have induced a rethink on the part of the VHP on their reconversion campaign. That nothing of the sort has happened has upset both Muslims and Christians, who form a sizable section of Kerala’s electorate. These numbers can tilt the electoral balance in many constituencies.

The timing of the VHP’s drive is also significant. It has come close on the heels of  the visit to the State undertaken by BJP president Amit Shah. Although state BJP leaders say that the party has nothing to do with the VHP campaign, their refusal to condemn it gives the game away.

Emboldened by the PM’s silence, VHP leaders have signalled their intent to go ahead with their reconversion drive in the future as well. The move is ominous and bodes ill for a state where various communities have lived in harmony and amity for decades. The VHP’s future plans cannot but rend the fabric of communal amity.

The BJP had, during the recent visit to the State by Amit Shah, set for itself an ambitious target. From zero seats in the current assembly to 71 for the state elections due in 2016.  Also, the BJP chief wanted its state party leaders to achieve a membership enrolment target of 50 lakh from the present five lakh by March, 2015.

Secular parties have been quick to scoff at the ambitious plans of the State BJP, sarcastically referring to the BJP move as ‘Mission Impossible’.  They do have a point. The BJP in Kerala simply does not have the organisational muscle to pull off the ‘miracle’. Besides, the BJP unit in the State is a house divided against itself, with various factions working at cross purposes. Given this stark reality, the possibility of the BJP achieving the 71 seats is simply out of question, they assert.

What is even more important, they argue, is the fact that Kerala has always remained a rich and enduring mosaic of communal harmony. Kerala’s soil is not conducive to the fast growth of the Lotus, and that the ‘communal plant’ transplants badly in the State.  BJP sources, however, rebut this contention with their counter-argument. They draw attention to the rapid strides the party has made in a traditionally left-oriented State like West Bengal, ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. If a communist fort like Bengal can crumble, can Kerala be far behind, they ask. In support of their stance, they refer to the phenomenal rise in the BJP vote in the Neyyattinkara by-election to the State Assembly. The BJP candidate polled over 30,000 votes – a five-fold increase from the 6000 odd votes it had secured in the earlier assembly polls.

Secular parties like the Congress and the CPI(M), however, have downplayed its significance . It is argued that Neyyattinkara was a one-time aberration. To expect a replication of it across the state in such a short time is to ask for the moon. That is what the Congress and CPI(M) leaders contend. Also, it was not a pro-BJP vote. It was more an anti-Congress and anti-UDF vote because of the popular revulsion against the Oommen Chandy Government’s unabashed policy of minority appeasement. The BJP fared better also because its candidate O. Rajagopal is a widely respected leader with an impeccable public service record and reputation for honesty and integrity. BJP’s leaders are living in a fool’s paradise if they think the party can repeat the performance either in the upcoming local bodies elections or in the assembly elections slated for May 2016.

Be that as it may, the Congress and the CPI(M) cannot afford the luxury of allowing themselves to be lulled into a false sense of complacency. Both parties simply cannot close their eyes to the disturbing erosion of their vote base. These votes have trickled down to the BJP over the years. The fact  that BJP’s vote share had gone up from 3.8 to 10 per cent in the last assembly elections speaks for itself. The party polled an impressive 19 lakh votes in the assembly polls. If these 19 lakh voters can be enrolled as party members, it would be a big achievement, aver BJP leaders. The VHP campaign will also have an adverse impact on the BJP’s efforts to woo minorities, especially the Christians. Soon after the assumption of power by the BJP-led government at the Centre, the Prime Minister had a meeting with the president of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis – an obvious attempt to build bridges with the Christian community. The meeting had also triggered speculation about the likely entry into the BJP of the most visible Catholic face in the Congress-led UDF Government, Kerala Congress(M) president and Finance Minister, KM Mani. A section of the BJP leaders had also lavished praise on Mani, hoping that he would quit the UDF because of the KC(M)’s strained ties with the Congress, which heads the UDF. That the situation has undergone a sea change, with Mani finding himself in the eye of a storm following corruption charges. But all this good will has been dissipated by the VHP’s campaign and the Modi’ government’s inaction. They’ve alienated the Christians with their recent ill-advised moves against the community.

In retrospect, the BJP would seem to have botched up the ‘Kerala mission’.  The BJP, a la the leopard, cannot change its communal spots, argue Christian leaders. The fallout has been a setback in the efforts to cobble together a third front independent of the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).

This is good news for the secular parties. But they also have their task cut out. They will have to get their act together fast and bend their energies to the difficult task to arrest the erosion of Hindu votes to the BJP by applying the correctives apace. Time is running out. Secular parties will ignore the writing on the wall at their own peril. The secular fort in Kerala is in grave danger. Defending it with all their might is the paramount task of all parties, which have  put a premium on the preservation of the secular, democratic and pluralistic ethos. 
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