Even as the Narendra Modi led juggernaut steamrolled the opposition in most states across the country, one notable exception is the state of Kerala. While the BJP was not expected to do well in a state where their presence is negligible, the party had made a strong pitch to open their account. But it was not meant to be, at least in 2019.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested in Kerala in 18 seats and secured 10.33 % of total votes polled. The total polling then was 74.02 %. However, the party couldn’t win a seat.
And now in 2019, its vote share has gone up in Kerala. According to the Election Commission of India statistics, the BJP has secured 12.91% votes in Kerala but has failed to win a seat.
Meanwhile, the Congress led UDF won 19 out of the 20 seats with one seat going to the LDF.
'Sabarimala - Golden Opportunity'
In Kerala, the hopes were high for the BJP camp and all the Kerala-based media surveys predicted that the party would win at least two seats in the State.
But it seems that neither the Sabarimala ‘golden opportunity’ (as state BJP President Sreedharan Pillai called the controversy while speaking to an audience in November 2018) nor the support of BJP national leaders have helped the party and its candidates in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The two seats which BJP hoped to win were Thiruvananthapuram, where they came second in 2014, and Pathanamthitta, which was the epicentre of Sabarimala anti-women entry protests, where Amit Shah also held a massive rally.
In Thiruvananthapuram, Kummanam Rajasekharan, former governor of Mizoram, was fielded as a winnable candidate by BJP against two-time sitting parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor from Indian National Congress (INC).
Tharoor won the seat comfortably by polling nearly a lakh votes more than Kummanam. In 2014, Tharoor had won the seat by 15,000 votes only and at that time, BJP’s O Rajagopal had secured the second position with 2,82,336 votes. O Rajagopal is currently an MLA in Nemon, a legislative assembly in Thiruvananthapuram parliament constituency.
In this election, Kummanam has secured 316,142 votes, which is around 33,806 votes more than what Rajagopal secured in 2014.
While this time, 1,010,180 votes were polled in Thiruvananthapuram, the total votes polled in 2014 were 873,439.
The CPI (Communist Party of India) had fielded C Divakaran, a sitting MLA from Nedumangad in Thiruvananthapuram Constituency, with great hopes to claim back the seat from Tharoor.
But he was pushed to the third position with only 258,556 votes.
Thiruvananthapuram was CPI’s seat till 2009 when it lost to Tharoor by some 1 lakh vote margin. And, in 2014, marred by paid seat allegations, the then CPI candidate Bennet Abraham was pushed to the third position and BJP candidate bagged the second position with 282,336 votes. A BJP candidate coming to a second position in a parliament election with a close margin was a surprise element for all in the State.
Meanwhile, If BJP was hoping to win a seat other than Thiruvananthapuram, it was Pathanamthitta, where Sabarimala temple is situated.
Following the verdict by the Supreme Court in favour of entry of women at Sabarimala temple, the constituency had become the epicentre of protests. K Surendran from BJP took the lead during the protests and was jailed by the Kerala government. BJP promptly fielded Surendran, who is seen as a ‘martyr’ of Sabarimala protests as he was jailed and is facing 242 cases related to it. BJP had hoped that the support they enjoyed during the Sabarimala protests will turn into votes in the polls.
However, it seems that the ‘equal distance’ stance taken by NSS, the Nair community organisation, dampened BJP’s prospects.
Surendran came third and got 297,396 votes. Veena George, a sitting MLA in the constituency, got 336,684 votes and is in the second position.
The Congress candidate Anto Antony won the seat with 380,927 votes. In 2014, Anto had won the seat with 358,842 votes. At that time, MT Remesh was the BJP candidate and he had secured 138,954 votes only.
This time Surendran has secured 1,58,442 votes more than what Remesh got but yet failed to clinch a victory.
Pathanamthitta constituency has 13.5 lakh voters saw a 70.5 % voter turnout. Of this, 56 % are Hindu voters, 38 % Christians and 4.6 % Muslims.
The results reveal that despite seeing a 13% rise in vote share, it was not enough to help BJP's Surendran to come anywhere close to winning the seat.
But while the BJP can take comfort from seeing a rise in their vote shares, the real battle in the assembly segments when the state goes to polls in 2020 will be between the Congress led UDF and the Left parties. Data shows the UDF leading in 123 Assembly constituencies, left in just 16 and the BJP in one seat.
Why Politics Over Sabarimala Failed To Bear Fruit
BJP hoped to open its account in Kerala through Sabarimala agitation at Pathanamthitta. But it was widely believed that BJP could win the seat only if it is able to pool the votes of Hindus, which accounts for about 57 % of the population in the district. The Congress-led United Democratic Front and CPM-led Left Democratic Front too enjoy a good number of Hindu supporters.
And here lay the dilemma for the voters who were upset with the Pinarayi Vijayan government for what they perceived to be a direct attack on their faith in the Sabarimala controversy. While the RSS has its pockets of influence through decades of building a base, the BJP is yet to build that cadre who could coax the voters through effective booth management, a strategy that the party is known for in other parts of the country.
The NSS (Nair Service Society) were also cold in supporting the BJP due to disappointment in the Modi led government for not countering the Supreme Court order through an ordinance and limiting its fight through street protests which yielded nothing for the community.
Sunny M Kapikad, a speaker, political observer and a Dalit rights activist, who had become a popular face, speaking for women's entry in Sabarimala, said that BJP couldn’t garner the trust of minorities, dalits and also a few sections of the Hindu community.
“They had only support of a few Nairs and Ezhavas in Hindu community," Kapikad told BOOM.
Historically, minorities have distanced themselves from the BJP in Kerala. During the poll campaign, BJP State President Sreedharan Pillai had come under criticism for making polarising statements against Muslims. And there were other such pronouncements of prominent leaders. which appears to have consolidated the votes of the minorities. It eventually forced the minority communities to vote for the Congress as it saw them as a natural opponent to the BJP as compared to the left parties.
In 2014, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance finished a distant third in 19 out of the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies. This time, also not much change has happened. Even after banking on Sabarimala, the ‘golden opportunity’ and campaigning that Hindus are unsafe under the Leftist rule, the BJP couldn’t win even a single seat in the State.