A temple in the north, another in the south: one is a promise, the other quite promising. The first opened the door for the BJP to stride through the Hindu-Hindi heartland. Now the shrine of Sabarimala gives the party a gap to squeeze into a state where its standing is that of a startup selling a concept that has yet to appeal to a wider Keralan audience whose loyalty has oscillated between communists and Congress for long.
The BJP has its network in this coastal land—a robust RSS machinery, a member in the assembly. But it is beset with factionalism and an absent cohesive structure. It needed an emotive spark. The passion surrounding the temple of Ayyappa provided one. The pitch is perfect now. Sabarimala will be a front around which the battle for the state’s 20 Lok Sabha will be fought this summer. “The CPI(M) mishandled the Sabarimala issue and we will use it to our advantage. We are looking at a couple of seats,” says V. Muraleedharan, a BJP Rajya Sabha member.
The BJP didn’t win any Lok Sabha seat in 2014 in Kerala. But its leaders are hopeful of a turnaround this year as the party has increased its vote share from seven per cent in 2009 to around 11 per cent in 2014. It is also counting on the Hindu vote, comprising 55 per cent of the population. There is a visible push to leverage its position. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kerala twice this month.
But analysts say the leftists are going to benefit in a triangular contest as the BJP will eat into Congress votes, like it did in the 2016 assembly polls. “The BJP may enhance its vote share but unlikely to get any seats,” political scientist J. Prabhash predicts.
The CPI(M) drew flak for the unrest and polarisation on religious lines during the two-month Ayyappa pilgrimage, which ended on January 19. But it enjoys the SNDP’s support—a backward-class community comprising 20 per cent of the voters—and several Dalit groups. “The BJP is facing setback in heartland states and it will be wiped out from here too,” says M.A. Baby, a CPI(M) politburo member. The Congress isn’t worried either. “Sabarimala is about tradition and faith. We are not looking at vote bank here,” party MP K.V. Thomas says.