Kerala BJP banks on temple politics

People protest against entry of women in the Sabarimala shrine.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is making its last round of preparations to open its account in Kerala during the upcoming polls. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kerala twice and endorsed his party’s stand on the Sabarimala issue. BJP President Amit Shah also addressed cadres and told them to work for the victory of the party in Kerala. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath also visited Pathanamthitta on February 14 and addressed page pramukhs and booth leaders during his one-day visit. BJP’s national leadership sees the Sabarimala temple controversy as a golden chance to open its account in Kerala.

The Sangh Parivar has directed the Kerala BJP leadership to keep the Sabarimala issue alive till the polls to consolidate the Hindu vote bank. If the BJP cannot capitalise on the Sabarimala issue in the coming poll, the party’s future in Kerala is not bright. So, it is trying its best to replicate what it did in Tripura, in Kerala. It has shortlisted five constituencies out of 20 as testing ground – Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Kasaragod and Palakkad are high on the priority list. Among the five, Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta and Kasaragod hold the key for the BJP in the 2019 election.

The BJP has pinned its hope on Thiruvananthapuram for three reasons – cadre strength, Nair community’s concentration and the 2014 general election result, where veteran leader O Rajagopal lost to Shashi Tharoor by a narrow margin of 15,470 votes and 32.32 per cent vote share. The party believes that with the Nair Service Society’s (NSS) support on the Sabarimala issue, its chances of winning are brighter.

Pathanamthitta is another constituency where the Sabarimala issue is going to influence voters.

The BJP may not carve a victory here based solely on support from the Nairs as the profile of the constituency favours Congress.

Kasaragod, which lies at the northernend of Kerala, houses the BJP’s traditional cadre base and organisational strength. In these three constituencies, the BJP has formulated specific strategies targeting voters to improve its chances of winning. Apart from the Sabarimala issue, the BJP is projecting the government in Kerala as an atheist “trying to destroy Hindu faith.”

UP CM Yogi Adityanath, in his emotional speech, appealed to the cadres to take a “firm stand to protect the customs and practices of Hindu faith and Sabarimala” and alleged that the LDF government is working with a hidden agenda against the Hindus. The target is clear – to lure Hindus who support the Pinarayi Vijayan-government and create confusion among them about the Sabarimala issue. Pre-poll surveys have prompted the BJP to adopt this stand and focus on Sabarimala.

More than surveys, the Nair Service Society, led by G Sukumaran Nair, has offered to support the BJP leadership in one or two constituencies where they have a winning chance and asked them about the party’s preference.

Earlier, the NSS took an equidistant stand in its political affinity and tilted more towards the Congress during polls. Polarising the Hindu vote could win the BJP some seats in Kerala.