Debating India

KERALA

Orange Letter Day

John MARY

Monday 14 June 2004, by MARY*John

A pro-NDA verdict opens the account at last in the south state. One-off, or is the parivar consolidating?

When Archbishop Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, said on TV that the BJP was "not untouchable", he was only underscoring an attitudinal shift in the Syrian Christian mindset. From being totally anti-BJP, the community has begun to show tolerance towards the saffron party. The proof of this came the day the results were declared. For the first time, the BJP-led NDA alliance opened its account in Kerala. It returned a Syrian Christian (former Union minister P.C. Thomas) to the Lok Sabha from the Catholic heartland of Muvattupuzha in central Kerala. His Indian Federal Democratic Party is part of the NDA.

The total voteshare of the BJP alliance in Kerala also crossed the single-digit threshold, posting a never-before 12.1 per cent. Of this, the BJP alone notched 10.4 per cent of the votes polled. To top it all, the BJP came first in five assembly segments and second in another five. This, in a state where it does not have a single representative in the assembly.

Obviously, the state BJP is upbeat since it is seen to be making a slow but steady electoral breach in a state where minorities make up 45 per cent of the population and the remaining 55 per cent Hindus are strongly polarised, either with the Left or the Congress. Besides, Hindu social organisations like the forward caste Nair Service Society and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam of the backward Ezhava community have kept a safe distance for fear of being overrun by the BJP. "We are looking forward to the local government elections due a year from now and the assembly elections thereafter. Our strategy will be to position ourselves as a credible alternative to the Congress and the Left, which are too close to be seen separately," says NDA state convenor B.K. Shekhar. According to him, the BJP’s Muvattupuzha experiment is a signpost. The party could ride piggy-back to the legislature provided it props up the likes of Thomas.

The Left parties, especially the CPI(M), sense the danger too. Says state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan: "It is of concern that the decline in the Congress-led alliance’s vote has benefited the BJP." While the Congress-led UDF’s voteshare dipped by 8.57 per cent, the LDF has gained only 2.48 percentage points. So the net gainer has been the NDA, which added 5.5 per cent to its voteshare at the expense of the UDF. There are still doubters like Professor Ninan Koshy, ex-director of the World Council of Churches, who believes the BJP will find it difficult to overcome conventional socio-political impediments. He cites two reasons for the BJP not being able to enlarge the space between the strong bipolar Left and not-so-left coalitions in Kerala. One, the overriding anti-government sentiment is likely to benefit the well-entrenched Left much more than the BJP in the next assembly elections. Secondly, the BJP’s appeal has reduced for the electorate since it has no chance of dislodging the Congress-led government in Delhi in the short-term.

Sangh parivar ideologue P. Parameswaran, though, has a different take. He feels the shrinking Hindu population in the state has spawned a greater "awareness" among the community that minorities would soon overtake them. The Hindu population has declined from 57 per cent to 55 per cent over the decade even as Muslims and Christians climbed to 23.34 per cent and 19.32 per cent respectively. This, according to Parameswaran, is sure to encourage a wary Hindu population to gravitate towards a nationalist pro-Hindu party. Countering Koshy, Parameswaran points out that the BJP is still very much the party-in-waiting at the Centre. So the BJP-minded sections would only be happy to rally behind the most credible alternative to the Congress-CPI(M) axis in Delhi.

The alarm bells have certainly begun to ring in the Left and the Congress. Over the years, the rss presence has become increasingly visible throughout the state.There are about 5,000 shakhas in operation now. The Sangh has identified nearly 10,000 locations for active work. In 1,330 places, active discussions and drills take place everyday. Slowly but surely, the Hindutva brigade is spreading its roots in a state where it has hitherto always drawn a blank.

P.S.

in Outlook India, Monday, June 14, 2004.

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