Emboldened by the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kerala, twice in a fortnight, during which he inaugurated important central government projects and addressed party events, the state BJP unit has launched itself into hectic preparations for the Lok Sabha elections. Discussions are taking place with a key ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), and a final candidate list for each of the 20 parliamentary seats are expected to be firmed up by the end of this month.
While the BJP has three Rajya Sabha MPs belonging to the state, it’s barren run in the Lok Sabha continues. In 2014 elections, it came close to winning the Thiruvananthapuram seat, but eventually, O Rajagopal, the party’s warhorse and currently it’s only MLA in the Assembly, lost out to the Congress’ Shashi Tharoor in the final rounds of counting. This time, on the back of a sustained agitation over Sabarimala and hopes of consolidation of the Hindu vote over it, the party hopes to force contests on some of the seats into fierce three-cornered ones and if lucky, even squeeze out a win or two.
PS Sreedharan Pillai, the party’s 65-year-old state president, sat down with the indianexpress.com in Thiruvananthapuram earlier this week to discuss the party’s election prospects and explain why he’s confident of a good show this time.
How are the election preparations coming around? When can we expect a final candidate list?
A: The BJP, under the banner of NDA, is going to contest all the 20 seats in Kerala. There is an understanding among the partners of the NDA on seat-sharing as well. We are hopeful of winning many seats in Kerala now. The political atmosphere is ripe for the BJP. The graph of the two fronts (LDF & UDF) are diminishing day by day and we are seen as a viable alternative to them. With respect to candidature, the final decision needs to come from the central leadership and the process of discussions are going on.
We’re hearing that there are five seats where the party is focusing much of it’s energies as it believes it can swing the contests in it’s favour in these seats. Is it true that the party is categorising seats in that fashion?
It (Our campaign) is not confined to five constituencies. During the Assembly election, if you analyze the voting percentage, the BJP got vote-share of 2 lakhs in 7-8 seats. So if we have 2 lakh votes, in the present atmosphere, we will be able to increase our vote-share and our seat position.
How’s the equation with the BDJS? How many seats are they demanding?
We have had mutual discussions with the BDJS and we have reached an understanding. But the confirmation has to come from the central office for me to disclose the number.
Recently, the SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan said the ruling LDF government will not be affected by the Sabarimala row. He also said the SNDP will not favour any political alliance. How do you see his statement?
He has taken a stand of the SNDP Yogam. NSS has also taken the same stand, that of equidistance (from all political parties). That’s their policy. But Vellappally Natesan has also publicly said that the BJP will be the beneficiary of some of the current issues in Kerala.
But he’s also saying nothing will happen to the LDF…
A: He may take his own view. SNDP is a wide organisation with a lot of educational institutions. That’s why they don’t want to quarrel with the LDF.
In this election, are you expecting votes to come towards the BJP from the LDF or the UDF?
But who do you consider your main rival? In seats like Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram or Pathanamthitta, where you fancy your chances, who’s your rival?
UDF is in a very bad position. After the Sabarimala row, the popularity of the LDF has gone down. There is a rapid erosion in their support base.
How do you view the Sabarimala agitation? At the Narendra Modi rally in Thrissur, most of the BJP leaders who spoke before him harped on Sabarimala. So it that going to be your campaign focus this time?
In Sabarimala, we intend to protect the interests of the devotees. The present government wanted to thwart the concept of Sabarimala. Believers at large spontaneously and with help from social organisations are against the present government. They are atheists and they want to finish Sabarimala. We are resisting them.
So what’s your opinion on the women who entered the temple. Do you think it’s a violation of traditions?
That’s why the thanthri (chief priest) did some special karmas (rituals) after closing the temple. Shudhikalasham (purification ritual) was done.
So you support that act?
The Congress has also supported the Sabarimala agitation, but in a different way. Don’t you think they stand to benefit as well?
The Congress party, in fact, is taking a double standard. Their AICC supports the Supreme Court judgment and are okay with women of all ages entering the temple. The KPCC took a different view. On October 4, they started the agitation and then they abandoned it. They conducted a padayatra and tried to impress the devotees that the Congress party is with them. But it’s clear they are fooling the public. When Rahul Gandhi visited Kerala, during his discourse, he touched all subjects except Sabarimala. His silence is conspicuous and he fooled the people.
After you became president, you said the doors of the party are open to all. But so far, there’s no prominent leader of the CPM or Congress who have joined. Do you consider that a setback?
That’s a wrong opinion. G Raman Nair, Congress working committee member joined. MVS Namboodiri of the Lawyers Congress joined. State organisation secretary of the Seva Dal joined. So many leaders. Pravasi Congress state president joined BJP. We convened a ‘navagatha’ (new recruits) conference also.
What’s your opinion on the Minimum Income Guarantee promise of Rahul Gandhi?
First of all, he should go through the promises made by Indira Gandhi. She declared in 1971, the eradication of poverty, ‘garibi hatao’. Did poverty increase or decrease? During our period, 8% of people were eradicated from poverty. We are succeeding in our attempt. Rahul is making a speech without any basis. He’s fooling the public.
From a national perspective, Kerala still remains a state where the BJP does not have a Lok Sabha MP. What’s making it difficult for the party to make inroads?
There are two fronts, and 50% of the population belong to minority communities. There’s apprehension in their minds and we are slowly changing that. Prominent Hindu organisations like SNDP and NSS are not having a close touch with us, now that embargo is over. We will be able to win.