On Thursday when the BJP leadership in Delhi discussed an electoral understanding with Kerala Ezhava outfit Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), it was a role reversal for its general secretary Vellappally Natesan.
Twenty years ago, Natesan was roped in by a section of swamis led by Saswathkananda at Sree Narayana Mutt in Sivagiri, a spiritual centre of Ezhava community, to foil the BJP bid to take control of the ashram via a rival faction. The BJP plan was to get into the Mutt through the prayer groups under the ashram.
In the 1996 polls to the SNDP Yogam,Swami Saswathikananda wanted his panel to contest and the choice for the post of general secretary was Natesan, then known as a bar owner and prominent civil works contractor. Two factors worked for him.He had fiercely campaigned against the then chief minister A K Antony’s decision to send police to the ashram for facilitating the takeover of a new governing body. The police action hurt the community’s sentiments and Natesan highlighted it.
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Close on the heels of the ashram issue, the Ezhavas in Kottayam had locked horns with Christians over the construction of a cemetery for the local church. Natesan was at the forefront of the agitation , making him the champion of the Ezhava cause. Natesan and his outfit have come a long way in the last 19 years, giving a new perspective to caste politics in Kerala.
It has always been an incongruity that Natesan, now 78, became the general secretary of an organisation envisaged to promote the teachings of social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. Detractors always hurled Guru’s verses on Natesan: “Don’t speak caste, ask caste and think caste. Liquor is poison, make it not, sell it not, drink it not.’’
But Natesan has managed to tide over such contradictions by consistently whipping up the sentiments of the Ezhavas, an OBC community that forms a quarter of the state’s population. Even rivals admit Natesan is a brilliant organiser — he has redefined the role of SNDP as a powerful tool for politically empowering his caste.
Two years ago, Natesan had tried for a broad Hindu unity, particularly to bring the Ezhavas and upper caste Nairs together. But that unity failed after the Nair Service Society backed out. But Natesan has not given up.
That he is a shrewd community leader is evident from the fact that even as he is negotiating with the BJP government at the Centre with a Hindu agenda, he remains a friend of Christian leader and Kerala Finance Minister K M Mani. Natesan had extended support to Mani when he faced bribery allegations from bar owners.
However, in the recent years, several senior Ezhava leaders such as C K Vidyasagar and Gokulam Gopalan have parted ways with Natesan over his “autocratic ways.” He is also accused of hijacking the SNDP.
Natesan has family members in various roles at the outfit. A few months back, SNDP rebels sought a CBI probe into Natesan’s “corrupt fund transactions’’. They alleged he had collected Rs 500 crore—from appointments to the various posts at the outfit’s educational institutions—since he became Yogam general secretary.
According to the breakaway Sree Narayana Dharma Vedi leader and chit fund millionaire Gokulam Gopalan, “The SN Trust had made a profit of Rs 66 crore in the last fiscal. But he had shown only Rs 6 crore .He should explain where the rest of the money has gone.”
After Natesan made open his electoral plans with the BJP, the CPM alleged that he had pocketed Rs 100 crore from appointments made in colleges run by the community outfit in the last four years. Natesan has not reacted to it.