Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to break new ground in Kerala, a state that it has found notoriously difficult to conquer despite trying for nearly half a century.
The saffron party, which is now ruling in 16 out of 29 states in India, has largely failed to make electoral inroads in the state except for getting one assembly seat in 2016.
According to exit polls, the party is very likely to win the Thiruvananthapuram seat, but also has a shot in Pathanamthitta, home to Sabarimala Ayyappa temple. However, Thrissur, the third consituency where it had high hopes, is unlikely to yield a seat this time, according to exit polls.
|Exit Poll Surveys||UDF||LDF||NDA|
|Republic-Jan ki Baat||14-6||4||2|
|Malayala Manorama-Karvy Insights||16-18||2||0|
|Mathrrubhumi News-Geowide India||15||4||1|
The capital of Kerala, which has the highest proportion of upper caste Hindu voters in Kerala, has traditionally seen a good turnout for the BJP, but has never managed to send a BJP representative to Delhi.
Sitting MP Shashi Tharoor, who had won the 2009 elections by a margin of nearly one lakh votes, had faced tough challenge from BJP’s O Rajagopal in 2014. The victory margin of Tharoor decreased from 99,998 votes to a mere 15,470 in 2014.
This time, however, Tharoor is likely to face defeat at the hands of Kummanam, according to most surveys.
Exit polls have said that the recent Sabarimala protests over the Supreme Court’s verdict on the entry of women has given the BJP the required push to open its account in the state.
An exit poll by Mathrubhumi News said that Kummanam is likely to win the elections with 37% of the votes. Tharoor will win 34% and LDF’s C Divakaran will get 26% of the votes, it said.
If predictions become true, it is certainly not a good news for Tharoor, who is hoping for a hat-trick term from Thiruvananthapuram.
Apart from Thiruvananthapuram, the party also have high hopes in Pathanamthitta, the hotbed of Sabarimala protests and Thrissur.
BJP had fielded its firebrand leader K Surendran to take on UDF’s Anto Antony and CPI(M)’s Veena George from Pathanamthitta, a place that rose to national prominence after the Sabarimala protests.
Even though the exit polls of prominent Malayalam media Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi predicted wins for UDF, they said that BJP would improve its vote share exponentially this time.
According to exit polls conducted by Mathrubhumi News and Geowide India, Anto Antony will win the elections with 34% of the vote shares. Close on the heels will be BJP’s K Surendran with 31% of the votes. LDF’s Veena George will secure only 29% of the votes, said the survey.
Both Surendran and the BJP have played the Sabarimala card to target voters in Pathanamthitta.
BJP got a major boost through the entry of Malayalam superstar Suresh Gopi in Thrissur.
Throughout his campaigning, the National Award-winning actor left no stone unturned to make an impact — a fact that seems to have rattled opponents.
According to a Deccan Chronicle report, UDF candidate TN Prathapan during a meeting on May 14, stated that Suresh Gopi’s candidature has adversely affected his prospects in the district.
“Suresh Gopi’s candidature adversely affected my prospects. I understand that there was a division of Hindu votes and the traditional Hindu votes of the UDF went in favour of the NDA candidate,” Prathapan told the meeting.
According to Mathrubhumi, UDF will secure 38 percent of the votes while LDF candidate Rajaji Mathew will win 35 percent of the votes. Meanwhile Suresh Gopi is likely to win 23% of the votes, said the survey.
Despite being host to over 4,100 daily shakhas of the RSS — second only to Uttar Pradesh — Kerala has traditionally rejected the saffron outfit’s political arm BJP.
This has partly been attributed to the high proportion of non-Hindus in the state population — estimated at around 47% — and partly to the cosmopolitan and outgoing culture of Malayalis, a great proportion of whom work outside India.
In the 2014 election, the party got only 10.3% votes in Kerala, up from 6.4% in 2009.
Modi’s ascendancy to the prime minister’s post in 2014, and an attempt to move away from religion-based issues to development, was supposed to help the BJP make some headway in Kerala.
NDA’s vote share rose to 15.1% in the state assembly elections, but included those of BDJS — a new party formed with the help of Ezhava organisation SNDP. NDA’s prospects in 2016 were impacted by violent incidents in BJP-ruled states in North India in the name of protecting cow.
With two years of relative calm on this front, the party is hoping that it does better in Kerala this time. It is also hoping to benefit from a controversy regarding the facilitation of the entry of women’s rights activists into the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, the holiest of the Hindu shrines in the state, by the Left Front government.
The party is also hopeful that its overall track-record of the last five years at the center would assuage Malayali concerns about its intentions. So, has it succeeded? Only the final counting on May 23 will be able to answer that question.