Reporter's diary: BJP having a tough time convincing Kerala that Hindus are under threat
State's high literacy rate demands more food for the intellect.
- Total Shares
It's unusual to hear "Jai Shri Ram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai" slogans in Kerala, least of all in Kannur, the heart of Left-front rule in the state.
Here, even the sea has a structure depicting the Communist Party of India (Marxist) symbol - the hammer and the sickle intersecting each other - jutting out of the waters.
It is from these very grounds that the Bharatiya Janata Party chose to send out a message - All Have to Live.
As soon as I saw the Janraksha Yatra's campaign tag line, I was reminded of what a Malayalee friend (who resides in the United States of America now, not "Gelf") told me when she heard I was headed to Kannur: "Please be careful".
The media has called Kannur the "killing field". The north Kerala district has witnessed the fiercest of clashes between BJP/RSS cadres on the one side and CPM, on the other. The "killings" have been brutal and unforgiving.
CPI(M) symbol on display.
Yogi Adityanath says the BJP and the RSS cadres were being massacred because they were trying to "protect" the Hindu religion from Marxist (foreign) imposition.
But if that was the case and Hindus were under threat in Kerala from the Left ideology, why had Hindus been voting in large numbers for the Marxists since their foray into the political fray?
Anyway, shouldn't go astray. Coming back to the yatra, the BJP started its show of strength with much pomp and splendour in Kannur. Amit Shah, the party boss, visited the centuries-old Raja Rajeshwar temple in a traditional Kerala "mundu" to kick-start his campaign.
After cutting short his scheduled padyatra (march on foot), he finally started marching with the karyakartas around 3.30pm on October 3. Shah hogged the limelight as the "Delhi" media captured each step he took as if "breaking news" couldn't get any bigger. Little did the media care about the man by his side, who'd be walking not one, but all 14 days from the front - 64-year-old Kummanam Rajasekharan, the party's state chief.
It was amusing to watch how the priorities of the national and the local media were so different. While the national media (specifically television) made the padyatra national headline, the local media was happy to cover just another event in the state's political potboiler.
In fact, I (a national media representative) received several messages from Keralites on social media, saying I should watch "their" news channels to know if they really care for a march to expose CPM extremism (Disclaimer: They could be CPM "bhakts" and I wouldn't know)
So was it just a flash in the pan? Is the BJP barking up the wrong tree?
Well, we may not want to jump to conclusions already, but it's true that the BJP's anti-CPM march is still some distance away from the hearts of the Malayalee folks. For a state that has so far not been stirred into polarisation on religious lines, any strategy that simply banks on this one line, will be difficult to execute. Kerala's high literacy rates demand more food for the intellect.
BJP supporters in the yatra.
It's undoubtedly true that the BJP cadre was chuffed. They told me this is the kind of boost they were looking for since a long time - the party leadership putting tiny Kerala on the centre stage. The Yuva Morcha members were at the yatra in their saffron bandanas, making sure they make the loudest noise. The announcement of Yogi Adityanath's participation on day two sent out a loud cheer at Amit Shah's rally on day one, that the party boss gleefully approved. It was no surprise.
There was energy and spring in the step as BJP workers raised "Jai Shri Ram" slogans, walking alongside saffron mascot and Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath. Even a delayed Malayalam translation of Yogi's Hindi call to save the Hindu Sanatan Dharma didn't dampen spirits! They were all high in spirits.
It was, however, Amit Shah's sudden cancellation of the programme on October 5 to participate in the march as it went through chief minister's native village of Pinarayi, due to which the enthusiasm fizzled out.
All in all, so far (it's been only three days) it has been mostly touch-and-go for the top leadership of the BJP. The party drew embarrassment massive posters went up overnight in Kannur eulogising the Left and making an icon out of Vijayan right after Shah skipped the Pinarayi leg of the yatra.
This comes at a time when the popularity of Vijayan had been steadily dropping.
Until recently, Vijayan, who won a bitter battle against stalwart VS Achutanandan to usurp power when the Left swept polls in Kerala 2016, saw his approval ratings steadily dropping. He is the David taking on the Goliath.
It's best to pit a David against a David. You wouldn't lose out on account of "sympathy votes" at least. But if one were to pass an eye over how the "Delhi" BJP treats its fledgling local leadership in the state of Kerala, you'd know that they are far from understanding that it is not without a reason that the local unit prints posters with Kummanam Rajasekharan in the foreground (walking the walk) with Shah and Modi in the background. It's a steep learning curve and the BJP has a long way to go.