To those who have been following Anil Antony’s recent political moves, read random tweets, his decision to join the BJP came as no surprise.
There was some amount of unpredictability over his next move after he announced his resignation from all posts in Congress in January following the BBC documentary row. Even then, he had just echoed the BJP narrative that the documentary on the Gujarat riots challenged India’s sovereignty, but then given the benefit of doubt he looked an upright educated youth who valued the cause of nationalism beyond political lines. He was angry at the Congress cadre who called him names for his stand. It looked like a natural response from the studious boy in the class who could not take all that bullying. His intention, nevertheless, became evident with his remarks on the conviction of his once-leader Rahul Gandhi in the Modi-surname defamation case. Since then, it was a no-holds-barred attack on the Congress from Anil. He started, not parroting but amplifying the saffron narrative giving clear signals of his impending entry into the Modi world.
Now, the BJP has managed to grab the son of none other than A K Antony – who at the age of 82 was forced to declare he will die a Congressman – into its fold, what’s the ruling party going to do with him? Any leader from an opposition party, especially Congress, joining it is good news for BJP for obvious reasons.
The Hindutva party has been able to woo a number of Congress leaders from across the country since its meteoric rise in 2014. The series of desertions has caused more damage to the Congress than what electoral setbacks did when it comes to perception management. Anil is the latest turncoat from the grand old party to join BJP from Kerala. He has his predecessors in A P Abdullakutty and Tom Vadakkan. When it comes to people’s support, the three have little to boast of, at least at this point in their career. Fact is the BJP, unlike in several other states, has been unable to hook some big fish from Congress in Kerala yet.
However, the BJP must be happy to bring onboard every possible Tom and Antony, no matter how big or small they are as leaders, because the party is eyeing nothing but a sizable Christian vote share from the southern state. For the BJP, it’s imperative to make inroads into the Christian votes to turn its fortunes around in Kerala.
Whether Anil, the son of a once-self-proclaimed atheist Antony, likes it or not, BJP sees him as a representative of the Christians. While welcoming him to the party, senior BJP leader and Union Minister of State from Kerala V Muraleedharan was keen to stress that. Muraleedharan said the decision made by Antony’s son was the biggest pointer to the fact that those who valued national interests beyond political divisions were ready to accept the leadership of PM Narendra Modi. Muraleedharan also stressed that induction of Anil, a practising Christian into the BJP, was a reply to the propaganda that the party was against non-Hindus.
The timing of Anil’s induction also makes it all the more sensible to perceive it as part of BJP’s agenda to attract Christians to its fold in Kerala. The move comes close on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming that BJP has been growing in strength in Kerala. Last month, Modi had said BJP will come to power after it succeeded in the recent assembly elections in the Northeast. The electoral wins in the Northeast states with a sizeable Christian population has infused in the BJP the confidence to shift its strategies in Kerala. The party has also been getting positive signs from some Christian corners. Recently, an archbishop of the Catholic Church in Kerala had proclaimed that the farmers of the high ranges would deliver a Parliament member to the BJP if the Centre increased the price of rubber to Rs 300 (more than twice the existing price).
It’s into this bargaining stage that Anil, whom BJP leader Piyush Goyal commended as multi-faceted, is entering. Goyal also made it clear that the party is expecting Anil’s services in Kerala.
It would be interesting to watch out for how and where Anil is going to fit himself in this whole new scheme of politics. To those who are still doubtful about BJP’s Kerala project, the party has organised a trek to the Malayattoor hills – an important pilgrimage event for Christians – on the occasion of Good Friday. If Anil could take part in it, perhaps, it would have given him an opportunity to start his walk with the BJP on a spiritual note.