The upcoming bye-elections to five seats in Kerala scheduled on October 21 present the BJP in the state with the perfect opportunity to increase its numbers in the state Assembly, where it has currently just one MLA. Out of the five seats, the BJP fancies its chances in three of them – Vattiyoorkavu, Konni and Manjeswaram where its candidates performed very well in the past couple of elections. And yet in these elections, where the party ideally should have had a smooth sailing, the BJP finds itself in conflict with Kerala’s two big Hindu communities.
The Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, that chaperone the Nair and Ezhava communities respectively in the state, have not been on the best of terms with the ideological positioning of the BJP in recent times.
During the Sabarimala agitation last year, the NSS leadership had taken a strong stand against the entry of menstruating women at the temple, lashing out in the process at the state’s ruling Left government for attempting to destroy Hindu beliefs. It was seen as a possible end to the ‘samadooram’ (equidistance) policy of the NSS towards the state’s leading political fronts.
On the other hand, the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar, which organised the protests on Sabarimala and which was hoping to reap the political dividends out of it, did not get the support it hoped for from the NSS. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s internal calculations indicated that a large section of the Nair votes flowed toward the Congress-led UDF which swept the state with 19 out of 20 seats.
The NSS has also made its displeasure known with the BJP as the latter made it clear that it was not in favour of introducing an ordinance in Parliament for women entry at Sabarimala even as review petitions are pending before the Supreme Court. Both the UDF and the CPM-led LDF accused the BJP of reneging on its promises and alleged that the saffron party was only interested in exploiting the issue for political gains.
Now, with the bypolls looming closer, the NSS leadership said it will follow a ‘saridooram’ (right distance) policy and back the coalition that is aligned with its thinking. Nair voters form a big chunk of the electorate in both the Vattiyoorkavu and Konni seats, where BJP candidates are facing an uphill battle against the LDF and UDF rivals. In fact, in Vattiyoorkavu Assembly segment, an NSS leader has openly stated that the community should support the UDF candidate.
“Religious issues are an emotional aspect for the Nair community. So Sabarimala is also a factor. As part of the ‘saridooram; policy, we intend to back the UDF,” Sangeeth Kumar, an NSS leader, told a local television news channel Tuesday.
Along with the NSS, the BJP hasn’t had comfortable relations with the SNDP either. The BDJS, the political arm of the SNDP, may continue to be an ally of the BJP, but it’s no secret that the two parties have shared a frosty relationship that teeters on the edge of a breakup. BDJS leaders have been accusing the BJP of reneging on its promises of giving key central government and municipal board posts as part of their political tie-up. The frosty ties between the two parties reflected in the NDA’s performance in the Chengannur and Pala bypolls where it was pushed to the third position.
Also, Yogam general secretary Vellappally Nadesan has maintained close relations with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, even glorifying him on a number of occasions. In fact, the BJP was forced to put up its candidate in Aroor bypoll after the BDJS refused to contest even though the seat originally belongs to the BDJS as part of official seat-sharing. With the Ezhavas forming a substantial chunk of voters in Konni, Aroor and Manjeswaram seats, all political coalitions bank on its support to get over the finishing line.
This round of bypolls, termed as a semi-final before the 2021 Assembly elections in Kerala, would have been the ideal springboard for the BJP to display its strength in the state. But as caste equations stand currently, it is locked in a tight triangular contest with the LDF and the UDF.
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