Column | Though divided at top, BJP prepares for local body elections as well-oiled machine

Though divided at top, BJP prepares for local body elections as well-oiled machine
Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan. File photo/Manorama
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As the lone Union Minister from Kerala, BJP's V Muraleedharan is often expected to lock horns with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other state ministers. Whenever Muraleedharan tries to get even with his political rivals, he finds ample support from BJP state president K Surendran. However, many of the party's usual spokespersons are conspicuously absent in this tug of war. They are happy to remain onlookers.

This is a pointer to the unrelenting cold war triggered by the anointment of Surendran as the successor of P S Sreedharan Pillai. Leaders such as P K Krishna Das, A N Radhakrishnan, M T Ramesh and Shobha Surendran seem to be distancing themselves from the new power centre around Surendran. Even Kummanam Rajasekharan is silent.

Surendran is an aggressive player but he finds himself without a platform thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. The new captain who wanted to shake up the party unit is locked out of action.

This conundrum explains the hasty switch by the party unit into the digital mode. Though Muraleedharan has been participating in video conferences attended by state leaders, Radhakrishnan, Ramesh and Shobha Surendran had been keeping away. They do not even bother to go to the party headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram.

Though divided at top, BJP prepares for local body elections as well-oiled machine
V Muraleedharan with BJP's former Kerala chief Kummanam Rajasekharan and present BJP Kerala president K Surendran (right).

Radhakrishnan and Shobha Surendran think that they had been demoted from general secretaries of the party unit to vice presidents. They were considered as potential successors to Sreedharan Pillai. Ramesh was retained as a general secretary but he rues not being appointed the party state president.

Krishna Das is peeved that the faction led by him was not bestowed enough positions within the party.

Surendran, on the other hand, bats for generational change in the party. He thinks the ascent of a 50-year-old should reflect in all party forums. He has been pitching for unity within the party but in reality, he has drifted away from the other leaders. The lockdown only added to the rift.

The factional infighting in the BJP's Kerala unit offers no comfort to the CPM and the Congress. The BJP has outperformed the other major parties in launching its efforts to prepare for the local body election. The party has formed 17-member management committees in most of the local body wards. Every committee has two members from the BJP and the RSS each to oversee its functions. Every 50 houses have been assigned to two other leaders.

Though divided at top, BJP prepares for local body elections as well-oiled machine
BJP's Kerala president K Surendran, prominent leaders M T Ramesh and Shobha Surendran. File photo

As part of BJP's poll preparation, the wards have been grouped into four: those the party had won, those lost by a margin of less than 50 votes, those worth a try and seats where the party does not stand a chance. Even in the last category, the party wants to garner as many votes as possible.

Party workers have been exhorted to work with a single aim: victory. The BJP aims to win about 3,000 wards, up from the 1,300 seats it won last time. A change of attitude in the state leadership is evident. The party has opened up its ward committees to minorities and eyed winnable candidates even from outside the party fold.

The BJP's dream is to have one of them as the mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. The party already has 35 members in the city council. The party has identified 60 winnable seats and assigned them to main leaders. The party wants to dominate the city corporation election and use it as a stepping stone to win the Thiruvananthapuram assembly election the next year.

Can the party achieve this goal given the infighting within its fold? The party's new headquarters is still in the works. So the state office-bearers are moving to another rented building next week. Surendran may be nurturing his dreams like anyone moving into a new house.

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