Far away from the BJP’s performance in Bihar and its impact on national politics, local body polls in Kerala have given the party a reason to cheer. The polls further signal the slow but sure transformation of the two-front Congress/Left politics with a BJP-led coalition emerging as a viable alternative to Kerala’s 60-year political status quo.
Being a BJP party worker in Kerala has been probably the least rewarding job in Indian politics for decades. The BJP has never won an assembly or Lok Sabha seat, making its recent rise noteworthy. Local body elections in Kerala are a precursor to the assembly elections. In 2010, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) got 65% of seats in the local body elections and won the 2011 state polls.
Following as it does the Bihar elections, the contrasts between the two are interesting and worth talking about. V Muralidharan, the BJP president in Kerala, came out against the beef issue early on and the party’s narrative predominantly focused on development. Its tie-up with the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) also meant that it was attracting the Ezhava votes — that have traditionally been with the Left. In comparison, the BJP’s Bihar campaign started with the development theme, but inexplicably veered away into other issues.
In the polls held in Kerala, the UDF won 368 of the 941 panchayats and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) won 542. In corporations, the LDF won Kollam, Thrissur and Kozhikode, while the UDF retained Kochi. The BJP effect has resulted in many local bodies facing a hung situation. In the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, the BJP emerged the second largest party just behind the Left and clinched 35 seats, a significant jump from its 2010 tally of six.
The BJP’s growth into a real player in Kerala politics will depend on how it evolves its strategy in the coming months.
The performance of the Narendra Modi government in the coming months and its renewed focus on development and the economy is key to the prospects of the BJP in Kerala. Its tie-up with the SNDP is a first step to creating a broader political front beyond the traditional BJP voters.
With the Oommen Chandy government in a crisis following the bar bribery scam and the resignation of finance minister KM Mani, the coming assembly elections are crucial for all the three parties. For the Congress, Kerala represents the only electoral hope in 2016. For the Left, Kerala is the last political bastion (after it lost West Bengal to the TMC). For the BJP, this is the best opportunity to open its account in the state.
While the country analyses the Bihar verdict, in ‘God’s Own Country’ a new political narrative is being written.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed are personal