Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to field firebrand leader K Surendran, who rose to prominence in the wake of the recent Sabarimala protests, from the crucial Pathanamthitta constituency.
Pathanamthitta is one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies where the BJP is projected to be on a strong wicket, not least because it is home to the Sabarimala temple.
The constituency was the epicenter of massive protests against a 2018 Supreme Court order that directed the state government to facilitate the entry of women devotees into the hilltop shrine.
Hindus comprise about 57% percent of the population in the district, with Christians accounting for 39% and Muslims about 5%. Both the Left Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front have fielded Christian candidates, which could prove to be an advantage for the BJP in attracting Hindu voters.
The seat was much sought after, including by state BJP President Sreedharan Pillai, union minister Alphons Kannanthanam and local BJP leader MT Ramesh.
However, demands for fielding Surendran rose to prominence in the wake of his ‘active’ role in the Sabarimala agitation. He was among the few BJP leaders to get into physical altercations with the police at the site.
However, he also faced tremendous odds because of his caste background. Surendran belongs to the Ezhava community, the most populous among all Hindu communities in the state with an estimated share of 22%.
However, only around 30% of the community is estimated to vote for the BJP, according to various exit and opinion polls, while 40%-50% of upper caste Hindu groups, such as Nairs, are seen to be BJP voters.
As such, some called for the fielding of Pillai, who belongs to the upper caste segment, from the constituency.
Pillai is also supposed to enjoy the backing of the Orthodox Syrian Christian community that is present in large numbers in the constituency, besides the support of his own Nair community.
The supporters of Surendran claim that he has touched a chord with the Hindu believers by playing a lead role against the entry of women in the Sabarimala shrine.
It is also pointed out that 30% of 22% (6.6%) is comparable to 50% of 12% — the estimated number of upper caste Hindu population in Kerala.
Fielding Surendran is also expected to ‘cement’ the party’s relationship with the Ezhava community, which forms the bedrock of CPIM’s vote and cadre base in the state.
Reports also indicated that another ezhava BJP leader, Sobha Surendran, is being fielded from Attingal near Thiruvananthapuram due to demographic considerations, even though she was keen on fighting from her home constituency of Palakkad.
It is also likely to field Kummanam Rajasekharan, who was BJP state president before Pillai, from Thiruvanthapuram. Rajasekharan, belonging to the Nair community, is expected to find it easier to draw the support of the large number of Hindu upper caste voters in the constituency.