At Uppala town in north Kerala’s Kasaragod constituency, textile trader Asif K said he only had to look across the border, to Mangalore in Karnataka, to know how “dangerous” the BJP could be. “When the BJP was in power in Karnataka, their workers terrorised Muslims and embarrassed them with all their moral policing. Recently, when the beef controversy raged across the country, Kerala remained calm. But Sangh Parivar men waylaid cattle trucks in the villages of Kasargod that border Karnataka,’’ said Asif.
With the Assembly election in Kerala a week away, all the parties that are in contention in Kasargod and Manjeshwar, both Muslim-dominated seats, realise that if the BJP hopes to get its foot in the door in Kerala, it’s this region that will hold the key. In Manjeshwar, the BJP has been the runner-up in the last five Assembly elections, while in Kasargod, the party has stood second in elections since 1987. The BJP has been gaining ground in these constituencies mainly because of the communal polarisation that has been getting sharper with the election date drawing closer.
The ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) are doing everything they can to keep the BJP away, including reminding voters such as Asif of what the BJP is “capable of doing”. “Beef is a sensitive issue in this region. Hence, both the UDF and LDF are keeping the topic alive to woo Muslim voters,” said Asif.
At Manjeshwar, the BJP has fielded K Surendran, who is contesting his second election. Here, P B Abdul Rasack of the UDF’s Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and CPM’s P K Kunjambu, a former legislator, are caught in a triangular contest with the BJP. Although Kunjambu belongs to a Hindu caste of weavers, a prominent Muslim Sunni group, which has considerable presence in the constituency, is backing him.
In Kasaragod, the BJP has fielded Raveesha Thanthri, vice-president of Kerala Hindu Akiya Vedike, as its candidate. He will take on sitting IUML legislator N A Nellikunnu and Left-backed candidate N A Ameen. In Kasaragod, the BJP hopes the Muslim votes will get divided between the UDF and LDF, both of which have fielded Muslim candidates.
A senior Kerala BJP leader said he fears the party’s rivals will do everything to keep the party out. “In an Assembly election held two decades ago in Manjeshwar, the party lost by a mere 800 votes. Ever since, Muslim voters have started ganging up against us. I fear the Prime Minister’s campaign rally last week will lead to a further Muslim consolidation,’’ he said.
The BJP is also worried about the “growing Muslim numbers” in these two constituencies. Manjeshwar has 18,000 new voters and Kasaragod has 17,500. The BJP says these new voters are almost all from Muslim areas. Its opponents believe it’s important for Muslims to stay together to keep the BJP out.
CPM leader Rasheed Cherugoli said, “Muslims here are wary of the BJP. Despite differences of opinion, all Muslim organisations have remained united here to take on the BJP. Several young Muslims have joined the CPM since it is the only party that can check the growth of the BJP.’’
In both these constituencies, the right-wing Muslim outfit, Social Democratic Party of India, known for taking on the Sangh Parivar, has not fielded any candidate to ensure that the Muslim votes do not get divided in the battle against the BJP.
In many villages, people openly say that the electorate belonging to the UDF and LDF will vote en-bloc to keep the BJP out. “Hindus are divided, but Muslims stay united in these two constituencies. They won’t let their votes split — they will vote either for UDF or LDF,” says Janardhana Poojari, a BJP supporter at Sonkal village in Kasargod.