The Supreme Court order to allow women of all ages to the Sabarimala shrine last year presented the BJP with a golden opportunity to ride a wave of popular anger. A year after the protests that seemed to give the BJP an advantage in Kerala, the party that rules the centre is devoid of leadership in the state. The party has not even called for a meeting to evaluate the recent order from the apex court that referred the review petitions to a larger bench. Some leaders were heard giving vent to their own opinions but the organisation is far from arriving at a coherent line. The BJP is staring at a leadership crisis yet again.
The BJP appoints its state president for three years. The next president is tasked with a responsibility to lead the party through crucial elections to the local self-government bodies and the state legislative assembly. Such a leader, in the opinion of parent organisation RSS, should possess two qualities at least. He should rise above the factional feuds within the party unit and command the trust and respect of possible turncoats from other parties.
The BJP could not pick a successor to P S Sreedharan Pillai even after a month of his departure. Leaders have been complaining that the lacklustre performance in the assembly by-elections has dented the party's image in the state. After a six-year stint by V Muraleedharan at the top, the party has had two presidents within four years. There is no more time for further experiments, the cadres feel.
First on the list of probables is K Surendran, the state general secretary who is known as a firebrand leader from the younger generation. Yet he faces odds due to his image as a partisan leader. In fact, Muraleedharan loyalists wanted him to succeed Kummanam Rajasekharan but the RSS opposed the choice.
Another choice could be M T Ramesh, another general secretary and the brain behind the P K Krishna Das camp. However, he is yet to recover from the drubbing the party received in the Vattiyoorkkavu assembly byelection, in which he was given the charge of the campaign.
The power tussle between the dominant camps might benefit senior general secretary A N Radhakrishnan. Meanwhile, Shobha Surendran is confident that she could be the first woman president of the party's state unit.
None of the probables is weighty enough to make the choice easy for the central leadership. A fallback on Kummanam Rajasekharan or P K Krishna Das could invite the charge that the party is not looking ahead.
The height of the confusion has even prompted an unlikely suggestion of actor-turned-MP Suresh Gopi as the president. Even he does not think himself as a suitable candidate since he is not very active in the party's organisational affairs. The party could settle with an RSS functionary as the president, as had happened with the unexpected choice of Kummanam Rajasekharan as party chief earlier.
The Muraleedharan faction of the party might be having an upper hand in the negotiations because of his elevation as a Union minister and his strong association with party general secretary B L Santosh, who was previously in charge of the Kerala affairs. Yet Muraleedharan would prefer to keep himself away from the factional fights of the party unit.
The BJP and the RSS want a new president for the party's state unit to attract new allies to the National Democratic Alliance. However, the current allies of the BJP are a dissatisfied lot.
A recent meeting of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena saw all 14 district presidents asking for a closure of the alliance. Party chief Tushar Vellappally, however, pacified his lieutenants by offering to talk to BJP national president Amit Shah. Vellappally has been bypassing the state leaders and communicating directly with Shah.
The BJP wants to capitalise on the bickering within the Kerala Congress because winning over the Christians at least is vital in a state like Kerala.
The leadership crisis in the BJP is keenly watched even by rivals the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front ahead of the local body and assembly elections.