The theme of the BJP’s fortnight-long padyatra in Kerala, inaugurated by party chief Amit Shah in Payannur, Kannur on Tuesday, is “Jihad-Red terror”. This deliberate hyphenation of the Marxist Left with Islamist terror is misleading and polarising. It is understandable that the BJP wants to target the CPM to expand its footprint in the state. But as a party of government at the Centre and in as many as 17 states, the BJP can and should focus on governance issues if it wants to corner the CPM, instead of concentrating on spectres. How the BJP conducts its campaigns and builds narratives is subject to scrutiny across the country — this casts a special responsibility on the party to maintain a sense of proportion and propriety in all political arenas and locales.
In the way it has unfolded so far, the party’s Kerala campaign seems to follow a pattern the BJP has tried elsewhere to polarise and to win. During the 2017 UP election campaign, the party’s top leadership had made remarks that similarly sought to demonise and label its opponent — Amit Shah spoke of “KaSaB” (Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP) and PM Modi talked about kabristan and shamshaan. The fact is, in Kerala, the Left, as the vanguard of a secular politics, has been at the receiving end of Islamist groups. Till recently, the BJP’s Kerala expansion plan had focussed on building a social coalition of communitarian groups and shaming the CPM for its involvement in political violence. The political tie-ups fetched the party its first legislator in the state, but coalition-building seems to have receded to the background since. As the party ratchets up the rhetoric against the CPM for targeting its workers in the state — Shah has announced protests in all state capitals — it could even be accused of giving the CPM a free pass when it comes to the latter’s governance record.
While Left politics contributed to the making of a welfare state, it has crippled the growth of industry in Kerala. It triggered the flight of its youth for jobs and made the economy dependent on remittances from the Gulf. The crisis in West Asian economies has made this model unsustainable and the impact is felt now across sectors. The BJP would do better to pin down its opponents in Kerala on these grounds instead of crafting a negative campaign based on the sharpening of anxieties and fears.