The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) claims to have the backing of 2.5 million cadre in Kerala, but the BJP has not been able to make any sort of dent politically in the southern state. The party’s recent assembly election performance, when it failed to open its account despite spending a reported Rs 400 crore on the campaign, has naturally demoralised the cadre.
The BJP central leadership has now changed tack, and is employing new political tools such as forming cooperatives, ‘Hindu’ banks, micro-enterprises and women and youth self-help groups to win over Kerala.
Kerala is one of the last states left which has resisted the BJP onslaught. The right-wing party hasn’t been able to get a foothold here, despite the state having a majority (56%) Hindu population. But the BJP and RSS have refused to abandon their ‘Kerala Mission’ and over the state.
One big hurdle has been the social DNA of Kerala—the huge influence of the Left parties and the fact that religious minorities make up some 44% of the population (Christians 18% and Muslims 26%). “But with PM Narendra Modi’s efforts on providing good governance, a section of the minorities have started aligning with the BJP,” says P. Sreekumar, a senior journalist working with Janmabhoomi, the BJP mouthpiece in Kerala.
The RSS and allied organisations are working on new strategies in Kerala. “We have introduced multilevel platforms, PR exercises and high-voltage campaigns. Kerala has to fall in with the BJP if it wants faster development.
Right now, the development chalked out by CM Pinarayi Vijayan is just to make profits for the party and middlemen. PM Modi’s vision is to make Kerala the No. 1 in India,” says K. Surendran, state president of the BJP.
In the past three years, Sangh outfit Sahakar Bharati has floated some 7,300 Akshayashree SHG units in the state which the Sangh claims has over 140,000 members now.
The Akshyashree units run bakeries, tea stalls, tailoring units, and manufacture curry powders. Another group runs the Samrudhi stores, supermarkets with the help of Bharath Agro Processing and Marketing Cooperative Ltd (BAMCO) in the state.
The RSS is also preparing the ground to float ‘Hindu banks’ in Kerala under the Nidhi Companies Act which doesn’t require Reserve Bank of India registration. Surendran, who lost from both the seats he contested in the assembly poll, seems confident. “Targeting women and the youth through SHGs, rejuvenating the cadre with new campaigns and winning over the minorities with our good governance promise will help us achieve our political targets,” he says.
According to him, the BJP has been making steady progress in increasing its voter base since 2011. Says BJP state spokesperson K.V.S. Haridas, “Putting the Hindu population at around 52% in Kerala, if we get 30-32% of that vote in a triangular political contest, it’ll be a major achievement.
In the 2011 assembly poll, we got around 1.05 million of 8.5 million Hindu votes polled. In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, we doubled our Hindu vote share and in the 2016 assembly poll too we bettered our position. In the 2021 assembly poll, we got about 3.5 million votes. The electoral math indicates that the BJP is gaining a mass base.”
The BJP is also sensing an opportunity in the problems within the state Congress. The Catholic minorities are a tad disillusioned—there is a general feeling that the Christian and upper-caste Hindu Nair leaders (read veterans Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala) have been dumped by the Congress.
“The disintegration of the Congress at the national level and the sidelining of these veterans at the state level offer a huge opportunity to the BJP in Kerala. We have an edge now politically.
A section of the CPI(M) leaders are also ready to revolt against Pinarayi Vijayan’s ‘Stalinism’ in the party. These developments will work to our advantage,” argues Haridas.