For weeks, Thushar Vellappally, president of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) — an ally of the BJP in Kerala and the political arm of the Ezhava outfit SNDP, was non-committal on his electoral debut in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Aside from heading the fledgeling BDJS, Thushar is also the second-in-command of the SNDP, whose general secretary is his father Vellappally Natesan. In fact, Natesan had made it amply clear that if Thushar chooses to enter the electoral fray, he must relinquish his post in the SNDP. To make matters worse, the BJP’s national leadership was stern that Thushar must fight elections, not just to raise his party’s chances in the polls, but also to send out the message that the NDA was, in fact, united and formidable in Kerala.
Today, Thushar is not just another NDA candidate or chief of a regional party. He will go down in history as the one who was tasked to fight Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party, as the latter contests from Wayanad parliamentary constituency in north Kerala. While political analysts would agree that the contest in Wayanad is pretty much bipolar in nature between the Congress and the Left, Thushar’s candidacy certainly puts him under glaring national spotlight.
“A vibrant and dynamic youth leader, he represents our commitment towards development and social justice. With him, NDA will emerge as Kerala’s political alternative,” tweeted Amit Shah earlier on Monday.
I proudly announce Shri Thushar Vellappally, President of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena as NDA candidate from Wayanad.
A vibrant and dynamic youth leader, he represents our commitment towards development and social justice. With him, NDA will emerge as Kerala’s political alternative.
— Chowkidar Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 1, 2019
Thushar and his father Natesan, a liquor baron-turned-Ezhava community leader, had formed the BDJS in the winter of 2015 in a bid to coalesce the votes of the Ezhava community, an OBC caste that forms a quarter of Kerala’s population. A deft organiser and one of the richest men in the state, Natesan’s ability to whip up the community’s votes using the SNDP’s grass-root units is legendary. That he had great financial resources at his disposal, the source of which remains questionable to this day, is given, but Natesan is particularly known for his well-oiled connections among political and social communities.
Historically, the Ezhava community has been a votary of the Left parties and is considered to be the bedrock of it’s voter base, especially in Malabar region. With an aim to counter the Left, the BDJS was thus propelled by the BJP to make rapid inroads into the community across Kerala. The two parties contested first the local body polls and later the Assembly elections together, without much success. In 2016, the BDJS, fought on 36 seats, coming third in all of them.
Over the years, Natesan has moved away from the BDJS, leaving his son Thushar to take charge of the party. On several occasions, Natesan has even publicly embarrassed his son by taking positions in favour of the Left and making snide comments at the BJP. In the backdrop of the agitation over women’s entry at Sabarimala and the formation of the ‘women’s wall’ in January, Natesan had even remarked that the ruling CPI(M) and it’s allies would come out of the controversy unharmed. It was seen as an indirect message to his son and the BJP that he was politically flexible.
After it’s rout in the local body polls in 2015 and Assembly elections a year later, Thushar now faces a mounting challenge to boost the NDA prospects in Wayanad, a constituency where it enjoys little popularity. With most of it’s voters belonging to Muslim, Christian and tribal communities, he has a daunting task of convincing them to vote for the NDA. While he will have the spotlight on him, at stake is also the political survival of the BDJS.
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