Did Suresh Gopi’s last-minute reluctance push BJP to pick 'partyman' George Kurian?

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George Kurian and Suresh Gopi. Created using Canva

Kochi: In George Kurian’s surprise pick as a Union minister of state in the third Narendra Modi government, the BJP’s political objectives are many. While the message of honouring a party worker’s loyalty and continuing the efforts to woo Christians are loud and clear, a section of BJP leaders also believe that Kurian’s elevation was also part of the leadership’s attempt to deal with the uncertainties caused by Suresh Gopi’s last-minute reluctance and unusual style of functioning.

Gopi and Kurian took oath as ministers of state on Sunday evening by the end of a suspenseful day. Though Gopi’s appointment as a minister in the Modi Cabinet was much-anticipated after he made history by winning BJP’s first Lok Sabha seat from Kerala, Kurian’s entry as a minister came as a surprise even for party leaders from Kerala who were present in Delhi on Sunday.

One of the major poll pitches of BJP was that Thrissur would have a minister in the Modi Cabinet if the party retains power. However, the saffron camp witnessed some last-minute confusion as the actor-politician reportedly remained reluctant to accept the ministerial berth citing film projects committed earlier.

Gopi has been given the portfolios of tourism, petroleum and natural gases. Kurian’s departments are minority welfare, fisheries and animal husbandry. Having worked as the vice-chairman of the National Minority Commission under Modi’s earlier term, Kurian is familiar with the schemes for minority development and the fisheries portfolio offers him the opportunity to make inroads into the coastal belt which comprises a large section of Latin Catholics too.

Kurian, who has been with the BJP since its inception in 1980, was honoured for his unwavering commitment to the saffron cause. Currently, a state general secretary of the party, Kurian was the party's state vice-president earlier. He was also the national vice-president of the Yuva Morcha and Minority Morcha.

Delhi politics is nothing new to Kurian as he was an officer on special duty to O Rajagopal when the BJP veteran served as the Union railway minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The ministerial berth is widely seen as a recognition for Kurian’s solemn style of functioning which has earned him respect across the state BJP leadership. For decades, he has been BJP’s Christian face in Kerala and he was instrumental in the party’s minority outreach efforts in the state.

“He enjoys a good rapport with various church denominations though he never hesitates to voice his opinions,” a BJP leader, who has worked with him for long, said. The leader said Kurian’s induction to the council of ministers was BJP leadership’s way of ensuring a balanced representation amid concerns over Suresh Gopi’s style of functioning. A section of leaders thinks he is yet to get accustomed to the party structure.

Gopi has repeatedly said that he is answerable to only two people in the party – Modi and Amit Shah. He has also given the credit for Thrissur victory to the people of the constituency even as the BJP wanted to project it as a political victory.

The BJP leadership has hailed the state president, K Surendran, as the architect of the party's success in Kerala in the Lok Sabha elections.

A note congratulating Surendran was posted on the BJP Kerala unit's Facebook page. The note states that the organisational skills of the leader were instrumental in Gopi's stunning victory in the Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency and in achieving the BJP's best-ever performance in Kerala.

In Kurian’s achievement, his long-term association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) could also have come to his help.

“With Kurian as a minister, BJP leaders have someone to go to. He is approachable to all and he perfectly knows how the party system works. The same cannot be expected from Suresh Gopi despite his appeal to the people,” the state leader said, requesting anonymity.

The leader said the national leadership must have taken note of this fact, especially after Gopi reportedly remained reluctant to accept the minister of state post. Another state leader, however, did not subscribe to the argument. He said there was no point in portraying Gopi as an outsider. “He is very much part of the organisation,” the leader said.

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