PS Sreedharan Pillai, the newly-appointed state president of BJP in Kerala, has the daunting task of leading a faction-ridden unit through three successive election years – the 2019 parliamentary polls, 2020 local body polls and the 2021 Assembly elections. As someone who has had the experience of leading the party before, Pillai expressed confidence that he would be able to deliver once again in a state considered unconducive for his party.
Speaking to the Indian Express in an exclusive interview, Pillai said, “I want to ensure the party improves and moves into a commanding position so that in 2021, Kerala can become a BJP-ruled state. For that, I have to expand the BJP’s base, strengthen the NDA and reach new areas and constituents.”
Pillai, a practicing advocate at the Kerala High Court and widely considered a moderate face of the party, was the state president from 2003-06. During that period, he was credited with victories of NDA MPs in Moovattupuzha (Kerala) and the Lakshwadeep parliamentary constituencies. Till date, the only time an NDA MP has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Kerala was in 2004. The BJP still hasn’t been able to get an MP elected to Parliament from the southern state.
Last week, Pillai was chosen as the man to lead the party through the Lok Sabha elections by national president Amit Shah after more than two months of hectic discussions with the local leadership and RSS state unit. Pillai replaced Kummanam Rajasekharan, who was appointed as the Governor of Mizoram in May. The 64-year-old’s appointment is seen as an attempt by the national leadership to quell the vicious factionalism within the state unit.
“I have never stood in line for any post. I have never approached anybody. I follow ideology-based politics. The party insisted me to become the state president so I accepted,” he said. Countering the CPM’s ‘muscle power and money power’ and assuaging the concerns of the minorities in the state were the two challenges before the party, Pillai underlined.
“CPM is a cadre party. They have the muscle power and money power. They are always trying to eliminate us from Kerala, both politically and physically. We are able to face it bravely. BJP has got good manpower in Kerala even though our Assembly representation is too meagre. By and large, the minorities are afraid of joining BJP because UDF and LDF in a systematic way has created a fear psychosis in the mind of the minority community. We are trying to remove it,” he said.
At the same time, he said, there would be no compromise on the party’s core ideology and its principles. Without violating the ideological principles, Pillai said he would try to woo leaders of the Congress and the larger UDF into the BJP.
“For a political party, there are two aspects. Tathwadhishtita nilapadu (ideological stand), there is no compromise on that. The other aspect is nayam (strategy). Without any change to the ideology, we are going to concentrate on strategy. We are expecting former Congress or UDF ministers, state leaders from both LDF and UDF fronts to join the NDA. All the arrangements are made. (smiles). I have made my own contacts,” he said.
Applauding Shah as ‘one of the best organisers’ he has seen, Pillai alluded to the Tripura election campaign as a classic example. “(In the 2013 election), we polled less than 2 per cent votes. Now, we are ruling Tripura with a thumping majority. So it’s all about strategy,” he said.