New in Kerala, a contest for the Hindu vote

The BJP has set about building a grand Hindu alliance of various groups, a move that individuals and groups leaning towards the Congress and the Left have taken note of.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: January 11, 2016 5:17 am
State BJP chief Kummanam Rajasekharan visits members of the erstwhile Travancore royal family in Thiruvananthapuram. Express State BJP chief Kummanam Rajasekharan visits members of the erstwhile Travancore royal family in Thiruvananthapuram. (Source: Express photo)

The concept of a Hindu vote bank, hardly ever discussed in decades of Congress and Left rule in Kerala, is evolving for the first time ahead of the assembly elections. The BJP has set about building a grand Hindu alliance of various groups, a move that individuals and groups leaning towards the Congress and the Left have taken note of.

Congress state vice-president V D Satheesan and M A Pearson, a political observer with Left leanings, concede that parties will be contesting for the Hindu vote bank, though both dismiss the BJP’s efforts.

The BJP has forged an alliance with SNDP Yogam, which represents the backward Hindu Ezhava community, and weaned a splinter group away from Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha, the largest Dalit organisation and one that has been traditionally with the CPM. The BJP’s alliance includes Brahmin organisation Yogakshema Sabha and fishermen’s organisation Deevara Sabha.

Traditionally, it has been the Christian and Muslim vote banks that the Congress and the Left have seen as potent enough to swing an election. The CPM has had an electoral understanding with the fringe Muslim party Indian National League since its formation; in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections it allied with terror accused Abdul Nasser Madani’s People’s Democratic Party. In the United Democratic Front, the IUML and factions of the Christian-dominated Kerala Congress are key allies of the Congress.

Things have changed since the BJP’s strong performance in an assembly byelection and subsequent civic polls held last year.

“This is the first time in Kerala that political parties are entangled in a battle for the Hindu vote bank,” said Pearson, the political observer. He felt the Ezhava vote bank would come under pressure from parties. “As there is a rift between the leadership of upper caste Nairs and backward caste Ezhavas, it is unlikely to work towards a major Hindu consolidation as the BJP is hoping for,’’ he said.

BJP state general secretary K Surendran said Kerala’s Hindus aren’t traditionally a consolidated vote bank but every Hindu caste or group has formed its own organisation over the last one decade, each one serving as a separate vote bank. This election would definitely mark the emergence of the Hindu vote, he said, especially after Hindu Coordination Committee general secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan has become the BJP state president.

Satheesan, the Congress state vice-president, agreed the Hindu vote has taken centre-stage. “But a Hindu consolidation is unlikely to happen due to the rift between SNDP Yogam and NSS of Nairs. The BJP has the support of upper-caste Hindus but because of its alliance with the backward caste Ezhava outfit SNDP Yogam, it runs the risk of losing that traditional vote bank,” he said.

Pearson expects Christians and Muslims to tone down their bargaining this election. A change in approach was already visible, in fact, when the Kerala Catholic Church, seen to be pro-Congress, lauded the Hindu community for its contribution to the welfare of Christians. Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of the Catholic Church said at a Hindu Nair meeting, “Minority rights are enshrined in the Constitution. But before the Constitution was drafted and government systems were put in place, it was Hindus who were protecting the minority communities, including Christians.”

Although the BJP has got closer to the Ezhava community’s SNDP Yogam, the community’s spiritual centre Sivagiri Mutt is divided over the Yogam’s political approach. Besides, Yogam general secretary Natesan’s rivals within the Ezhava community too have become vocal. Again, although the Hindu Nair NSS leadership is yet to warm up to the BJP, rivals of its general secretary Sukumaran Nair have got closer to the Sangh Parivar.