After remaining headless for almost two months, the Kerala unit of the BJP got a new chief on Monday. P S Sreedharan Pillai, an advocate and moderate face of the party, has been given the opportunity to lead the beleaguered organisation into the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The post had fallen vacant after Kummanam Rajasekharan was abruptly taken out of the state organisation to be appointed as the governor of Mizoram.
This is the second time that Pillai has been tasked with heading the Kerala BJP, he had previously occupied the post between 2003-2006.
The national leadership made the decision after weeks of exasperating discussions between the RSS state unit and the local leadership of the BJP. The RSS state unit was said to be displeased with the national leadership for pulling out Rajasekharan days ahead of a crucial bye-election in Chengannur without even giving it an intimation. Pillai was the BJP candidate in the bypoll at the time. He later went on to finish third in the contest, eventually won by the ruling CPM.
The state unit of the BJP is mired in severe factionalism, mainly between two groups led by V Muraleedharan and PK Krishna Das, both former state presidents. Though Kummanam was brought into the organisation to quell the factional crisis, it has only intensified in recent years. Pillai’s appointment is seen as crucial in that context as he does not identify himself as being close to either group. The national leadership was reportedly not happy with the names of K Surendran and A N Radhakrishnan put forward by the Muraleedharan and Krishna Das factions respectively.
Kerala is among the few states in the country which has not elected a BJP MP to the Lok Sabha. The closest it came to snatching a Lok Sabha seat was in 2014 when O Rajagopal, the party’s warhorse, lost the race in Thiruvananthapuram to Congress’s Shashi Tharoor by a margin of over 15,000 votes. However, two years later, it created history when the party opened its account in the Assembly for the first time. Rajagopal is the party’s sole MLA in the state.