The two propellants the BJP has used to achieve some measure of success in Kerala – Narendra Modi and Sabarimala – seems to have lost their potency. After the 2021 Assembly polls, like a strange beast that has accidentally strayed into inhospitable terrain, the party is gasping for breath.
It has lost the only seat it had, Nemom. But this does not mean the party is dead in Kerala. Not yet.
It still is second in all the seven constituencies it had come second in 2016: Manjeshwaram, Kasaragod, Malampuzha, Palakkad, Chathannoor, Kazhakuttam, and Vattiyoorkavu. As a bonus, the party has come second in Attingal this time, where BJP's P Sudheer has out-voted RSP's A Sreedharan by 1324 votes. So, it is second in eight constituencies, a marginal improvement from 2016.
In four of the seven seats where it has retained its second position – Manjeshwaram, Malampuzha, Palakkad and Chathannoor - the party had even improved its vote share. It is only in the three others – Kasaragod, Kazhakuttam and Vattiyoorkavu - its vote share had plummeted.
Fact is, the BJP has acquired one more second position, Nemom, taking the total to nine. But this addition to the number of second spots will be spoken only in whispers in BJP circles as it was a failure that won them this ninth 2nd spot.
Here comes the bad news
The second spots hold out hope but here is why the BJP could be on its way to oblivion in Kerala: In 2016, there were 54 constituencies where the BJP had secured more than 15 per cent votes, and 24 where it bagged over 20 per cent; a total of 78 seats where the BJP had over 15 per cent votes.
After the 2021 polls, the number of '15 per cent' constituencies has come down to 34 and '20 per cent' constituencies to 16; from 78, the number of seats where the BJP has a vote share of more than 15 per cent came down to 50.
And in these 50 seats, the BJP's vote share has fallen in all except seven seats: Elathur (TP Jayachandran Master), Kozhikode South (Navya Haridas), Shornur (Sandeep Warrier), Kongad (Renu Suresh), Thrissur (Suresh Gopi), Irinjalakkuda (Jacob Thomas), Attingal (P Sudheer).
The seven who have managed to increase their vote share are BJP candidates. Meaning, none of the candidates of Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), an ally roped in to lure the dominant Ezhava votes, could improve upon their 2016 performance.
Compare, for instance, the BDJS performance in Kuttanad. In 2016, Subhash Vasu had cornered 25.40 per cent of the votes in Kuttanad. This time, BDJS's Thampi Mettuthara could mobilise just 11.1 per cent of the votes in Kuttanad. His loss seems to have been almost equally shared between the winner Thomas K Thomas of the Nationalist Congress Party and Kerala Congress's Jacob Abraham.
In Idukki, the share of BDJS votes fell from 19.40 per cent in 2016 to 7.07 per cent this time. Again, like in Kuttanad, the votes released from the BDJS kitty seems to have been almost equally shared between Roshy Augustine of KC(M) and his rival Francis George. Roshy improved his share from 42.86 per cent in 2016 to 47.48 per cent and George to 43.24 per cent from 36.26 per cent.
The performance of the BDJS candidate K Padmakumar in Ranni, where the KC(M) candidate Pramod Narayan scraped through with 1285 votes, was almost equally dismal. In 2016, Padmakumar had attracted 21.06 per cent of the votes. This time, his share shrunk to 15.33 per cent.
The non-performance of the BDJS candidate Santhosh Madhavan in Udumbanchola (where minister M M Mani won by a huge margin of 38,305 votes) was nothing short of shocking. In 2016, BDJS's Saji Parambath had secured 17.30 per cent votes. Madhavan, this time, could fetch just 5.76 per cent votes.
The NDA alliance, in short, is in ruins.
Failure of the political class
The top BJP leaders, too, did not lead by example. None of the BJP's senior political leaders was able to improve their performance in constituencies where the BJP had high hopes.
BJP state president K Surendran did slightly better in Manjeshwaram, from 35.88 per cent in 2016, he made it 37.7 per cent this time, which incidentally is the highest vote share commanded by a BJP candidate in 2021. But in his second seat Konni, his share fell quite dramatically, from 28.65 per cent in the 2019 byelection to 21.91 per cent this time.
Sobha Surendran (29.06 per cent) could not better V Muralidharan's vote share of 31.90 per cent in Kazhakuttam. V V Rajesh (28.77 per cent) could not better Kummanam Rajasekharan's 2016 performance (31.87 per cent) in Vattiyoorkavu. Kummanam (35.54 per cent) was unable to reach anywhere near O Rajagopal's performance (47.46 per cent) in Nemom.
BJP general secretary M T Ramesh, one of BJP's known faces, did slightly weaker (22.50 per cent) in Kozhikode South than K P Sreesan (22.65 per cent) in 2016. NDA candidate and perhaps Kerala's most popular tribal leader C K Janu saw her vote share in Sulthan Bathery falling from 16.35 per cent in 2016 to 9.08 per cent this time.
Candidates who made an impact
The only BJP candidates who could make some impact were its non-political faces. Metroman E Sreedharan improved BJP's vote share in Palakkad from 29.23 per cent in 2016 to 35.34 per cent this time.
Popular film star Suresh Gopi gave a big boost to the party's performance in Thrissur, from 19.63 per cent he raised it to 31.3 per cent this time. Former Vigilance DGP Jacob Thomas also managed to do what senior political leaders could not. He improved the party's vote share in Irinjalakuda from 20.49 per cent to 22.12 per cent.
The strong performance of the non-political faces hints at two things. One, the BJP can still command votes with the right kind of candidates. Two, the current crop of leaders are not up to the task.
BJP's future in Kerala
Even at the peak of Modi's popularity (during the 2016 Assembly polls) and also when the emotional pull of the Sabarimala verdict was the strongest (during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls), Kerala was considered BJP's Mars Mission. It was clear the green strip of land did not have all the elements necessary for the survival of the Hindutva ideology but still an exploratory mission was launched.
The closest they came to signs of life was when a Supreme Court verdict set off 'Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa' chants. It was soon revealed that whatever animated the antennas of their political rovers was not enough for sustained life. Now, with Modi's pandemic leadership also coming under fire, the BJP Mission looks as good as lost in Planet Kerala.