It’s been trying to get its toe into Kerala for years — but with little success so far. Now, BJP may finally be closer than ever to winning its first seat in the southern state following a five-fold leap in votes in an assembly by-election this week.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) may have won the Aruvikkara constituency on Tuesday, but BJP’s 85-year-old O Rajagopal raked in an impressive 34,000, or 24%, of total votes polled, up from just 7,000 votes in the 2011 assembly election.
Its impressive gains rattled both the ruling group and the CPI(M)-backed Left Democratic Front (LDF), with the saffron party’s attempts to consolidate Hindu votes as well as woo the crucial Nair and backward Ezhava communities paying off.
Elections in Kerala are traditionally a head-to-head battle between the UDF and LDF, but BJP has been striving to make inroads into the southern state, fielding big names like Prime Minister Narendra Modi to campaign ahead of last year’s Lok Sabha polls that it won with a stunning majority.
“In Aruvikkara we managed to pocket at least 70% of the new votes. It shows the party is gaining popularity in the state,” said BJP former state chief P S Sreedharan Pillai, predicting the state would witness a fierce three-cornered contest in next year’s assembly elections with the ruling UDF battling an anti-incumbency wave and corruption charges. “The Congress victory is only technical. The BJP emerged as the real winner.”
Though the saffron party is yet to open its account in the Kerala assembly, CPM, more than Congress, is worried about BJP eating into its vote share.
There’s debate over whether the so-called Modi wave had hit Kerala, but latest trends showed a majority of new voters were leaning toward the BJP camp.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Rajagopal pushed LDF candidate J Bennet Abraham to a humiliating third position in Thiruvananthapuram with former union minister Shashi Tharoor from Congress taking the seat.
Senior CPM leaders accepted that BJP posed a big threat to the party which had witnessed a significant erosion of its base in the southern state. “We don’t have anything new to offer to youngsters,” said one of them. “The party has to redraw its strategy soon.”