Updated: April 2, 2021 1:50:33 pm
A fortnight ago, when actor and Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi walked out of a private hospital in Kochi where he was being treated for pneumonia, journalists jostled around him to get a response to his nomination from Thrissur constituency on a BJP ticket. When asked if he hoped to win, Gopi gave a surprising answer. “Malsara-sadhyatha aanu, vijaya-sadhyatha alla (The possibility is of a contest, not a win),” he said, with a smile.
To many, it underlined the notion that Gopi is a reluctant candidate in this election. In the run-up to the polls, when there were frenetic discussions within the BJP on candidate selection, especially for seats where the party fancies its chances, Gopi’s name did the rounds. A superstar known for swashbuckling police roles and a veteran of over 200 films, mostly in Malayalam cinema, Gopi is highly popular in Kerala despite belonging to a party that has found it difficult to expand its footprint in the state. Apart from his film career, he is now a successful host of the Malayalam version of Kaun Banega Crorepati, and has won admirers for his charitable work.
However, as his name did the rounds, Gopi indicated to the party that he was not interested in contesting this time, possibly due to his film engagements, and the fact that he still had a year left in his Rajya Sabha tenure. Also, this election comes just two years after the Lok Sabha polls in which Gopi unsuccessfully fought from Thrissur parliamentary seat. Though he helped rally the BJP’s vote-share in that election, he still came third after the Congress’ T N Prathapan and CPI’s Rajaji Mathew.
Then, in the first week of March, Gopi fell sick in the middle of a shoot and had to be admitted to hospital, making the chances of his nomination appear bleak. So his name in the candidate list read out at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi came as a surprise. Local media reports said Gopi agreed to fight the polls, despite his ill-health, on the insistence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, Gopi’s remarks since have led to a series of flaps. For example, his appeal to voters in Guruvayur, where the BJP candidate’s nomination papers have been rejected, to back the IUML. The CPM latched on to this, saying it was clear evidence of a BJP-UDF deal under the table (IUML is a member of the UDF). In interviews, Gopi has spoken of implementing a uniform civil code and a population control mechanism if the BJP is elected to power — .even veteran RSS and BJP leaders don’t venture there in Kerala with its large minority population.
In Thrissur, which ranks among the BJP’s self-proclaimed ‘A-class’ seats in the state (or seats where it has a good chance), Gopi faces Padmaja Venugopal of the Congress and P Balachandran of the CPI. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had finished second after the Congress in the Thrissur Assembly segment.
A largely urban seat in central Kerala, it has a mixed population of Nair and Ezhava voters along with Christians. The BJP believes its strident position on Sabarimala temple entry and the large-scale protests it organised in 2018 in connection with the issue will buy it favour among Nair voters, while its association with the BDJS will help it get Ezhava votes.
The party has also been making persistent attempts to woo the Christian community by raising issues like minority scholarships and ‘love jihad’.
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