BJP’s Kerala narrative may do more harm than good to the party’s political fortunes in the state

opinion | Friday, October 6th, 2017
Naveen Nair

Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Devendra Fadnavis, Manohar Parrikar, Nirmala Sitharaman, Dharmendra Pradhan and General VK Singh - the list of BJP leaders who are waiting in the wings to attend the party’s 'jana raksha yatra’ that kicked off from Kannur, the CPM’s strongest bastion in the country, is endless.

But even when the BJP gathers its entire artillery from across the country onto the shores of Kerala with the proclaimed political motive of exposing the violent politics of the state’s ruling CPM, and through it win the hearts of the average Malayalee voter, there is still a creeping fear that the entire exercise could do more harm to the party’s political fortunes than the other way round.

This is because the narrative the party has unleashed in Kerala, knowingly or unknowingly, and which is fast resounding across the nation through almost every national media outlet be it Hindi or English, is one of anti-Kerala and anti-Malayalee.

What should have been anti-Communist in its tone and tenor has taken a larger monstrous pitch, pitting the BJP against a highly literate society in the state.

No doubt the violent communist ideology that very often calls for doing away with the political opponent needs to be countered tooth and nail but the BJP while seeming to do that has only ‘made a rod for its own back’ and could end up alienating its own vote bank.

Hence a large section of the state that thrives on the often hyped and hallowed ‘mallu’ pride and who does not understand the north Indian way of doing hardcore politics have been antagonized in a bitter way over the last few days.

From cementing its foothold on the nearly 16 percentage all-time high vote share that it received in the last assembly elections, the BJP could very well slide down further to a new low, if this very Malayalee pride gets more mortified in days to come. With the party yet to even realize its folly leave alone trying a mollifying attempt, it does look a lost cause at the moment.

“Even now the BJP seems to have been unable to gauge the pulse of the people here. If you play the same politics which you do in Hindi heartland you will not get very far with the people of Kerala. I think the problem is because the entire diagnosis of the issue has been made sitting in Delhi and the prescription is being applied in here without understanding the ground realities,’’ noted political analyst Joseph C Mathew told Asianet Newsable

Disturbing taglines and the national media’s attack  

It is taglines such as ‘Killing fields of Kerala’ coined by a national media outlet a couple of months ago and used umpteen number of times by fellow media houses that actually set the ball rolling causing a huge section of state’s literate middle-class society to believe that a deliberate and well-planned attempt to defame the state at the national level is on.

It should be also kept in mind that when it comes to Kerala, a majority of the literate section would mean a very high percentage somewhere in the high eighties given the shape of literacy in the state.

If a tip of this animosity is to be felt, then one need not go any further but analyse what Times Now and Republic TV two leading media houses received from the hands of Twitter and Facebook using Malalayees in the last few months.

On the eve of Amit Shah’s previous visit to Kerala in June, the ‘#HeadstoHunderyPakistan’ hashtag run by Times Now got the state’s social media users baying for the channel’s blood so much that it’s editorial team perhaps for the first time ever sent out a regret message, calling it ‘an inadvertent error.

Worse was what Republic TV had to put up with. Arnab Goswami’s channel’s rating over the web space went from 4.4 stars to 2.2 stars in just over a week because those who purposely rated the online page and the android application with a single star rose from 93 to 473 in a period of a few hours.

The allegiance of those who voted out Republic TV in this case need not be overemphasized. Clearly, they felt that Kerala’s image was being taken to the cleaners with Goswami taking what many perceived was a clear one-sided affair in the CPM versus RSS battle.

These are clear indicators the BJP should have taken note of before strategizing its plan for a renewed attack on the CPM which otherwise should have been welcomed by the man on the street provided the battle was fought on the right front with the right weapons without causing what many would claim as collateral damage.

“Even when we know that the BJP is a rising force in the state, the common man here has a feeling that whether Kerala as such is being defamed by complete wrong use of terminology to define the situation. The BJP could have improved the articulation in such a way that the projection of the issue doesn’t hurt the common man’s sentiments about his home,’’ says Rahul Easwar, author and activist who follows the Sangh Parivar closely in the state. 

Hence both Shah and Yogi got trolled left right and centre from the moment the yatra kicked off. Not that trolling was anything strange for these men but to face such tremendous sarcasm and mockery when the issue being raised is so serious only shows how terrible one has fallen short in making people actually see the issue.  

At least the leaders should have taken note of where Kerala stand in terms of a number of indicators on the Human Development Index against other BJP ruled states before making a few comments. No wonder the ‘learn from Uttar Pradesh’ goes down as the biggest joke of the week.

An upset state unit?

With the state leadership of the BJP hardly having any say in the affairs of what strategy the party needs to adopt in the state due to its own acute inefficiency and inability to put across its point to the top brass in Delhi, there is hardly anything they can do rather than express their displeasure at how the script is being written among themselves.

If a senior leader of the state unit is to be believed, there is complete dejection among the rank and file of the party in the state over the way in which the central leadership has completely usurped the agenda in Kerala.

 There is a strong discontentment that rather than taking advice from the state leadership, Shah had strategized his moves based on the inputs that a few political gurus sitting in Delhi who have no understanding of the state’s political pulse along with the bits and pieces supplied by a few Delhi based editors whose only claim to fame is shouting loudly over prime time news shows.

That is how the narrative took a dramatic shift. When the RSS worker Rajesh was killed in Thiruvananthapuram by hired CPM goons leading then to the attack on the BJP office in the capital by a DYFI councillor, the public sentiment was certainly with the saffron party and the CPM was certainly on the back foot, something which the party leaders themselves agreed to.

But rather than leaving the CPM to imploded on its own, which was certain in due course of time, given the poor performance of the government in the first year, the BJP central leadership by overdoing their push ably supported by a national media wanting to play up the Kerala scene, completely changed the narrative.

It is no more BJP v CPM but it is BJP v Kerala. That is how it had been playing out since the much-anticipated yatra kicked off.  The BJP no doubt seems to have shot itself in the foot with its own miscalculated move and the CPI(M) is now having a good laugh about it.

‘Jihadi terror’ and ‘Red terror’ are the two terms that the BJP had strategically placed on board to put the ruling Left front in Kerala on the back foot.

To make an honest judgment one would certainly agree that both the terms are highly relevant in Kerala and need to be countered in equal measure given the way it’s affecting the state. But the BJP seems to have got the implementation all wrong as painting the whole state as a jihadist or red terror-prone hardly made any sense rather than evoke strong protest.

The CPM’s double game

If one were to take the words spoken by both Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in the last few days on its face value, then you think the comrades are giving the Sangh Parivar a fight. But scratch on the surface you will find the whole thing a terribly hollow.

This is because the CPM truly believes that it is in its best interest to give the BJP a long rope in Kerala. There is a clear strategy behind that.

Not only will the polarization, that is likely to happen sooner or latter if the BJP goes on with its vigorous campaign, bring the largest minority community, the Muslims closer to the communists but will also go a long way in consolidating its vote bank among the community.  

Many believe that already the fall out of this BJP rally will be reflected in terms of a better vote share for the CPM at the coming by-election at the Muslim dominated Vengara which is still a UDF sure seat.

With the Christian community gravitating towards the BJP with more vigour post Alphons Kannathanam’s elevation as Union Minister, the CPM knows that keeping the Muslims close to its chest is its best bet for it in 2019.

Precisely that is why the CPM does not mind when the BJP plays the communal card vis-à-vis the ‘Love Jihad’ which would again help move the equations in favour of the red party sending out a message that Vijayan and his men are the only true protectors of the minorities.

“Both the CPM and the BJP are playing a very ugly game that in the long run will benefit them both. Out of this, a situation is likely to arise where the BJP will be the real opposition to the CPM throwing an already sick Congress party out of their seat. This is possible perhaps in a decades or so from now and both the parties are sowing the seeds for that now. It will depend a lot on how the Congress party handles the situation,’’ noted political activist CR Neelakandan told Asianet Newsable.

In the midst of all this mêlée, there is one cardinal issue that the BJP has forgotten or conveniently overlooked to push its fight against the communists. That is the development agenda, something for which the state had been craving for since ages and which if Modi and Co had taken up in right earnest as they had done elsewhere would have easily won over the hearts of a majority in the state.

The BJP would do a lot of good for itself if it understands in quick time that what Kerala needs is a dynamic economic model that could bail out the state across a number of fronts rather than push yet another ideological agenda down the people’s throat, something which the CPM had been doing for six decades in the state.  

Only then perhaps the people of Kerala would in real earnest turn the state saffron.

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