Analysis | How BJP is employing nomad tactics to improve Kerala vote share

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets crowd during roadshow at Thrissur. Photo: Special arrangement

The Lok Sabha fortunes of the BJP in Kerala have grown not in leaps and bounds but in small vaguely perceptible increments. The BJP's long-term vision - not the over-ambitious campaign claims of leaders but a plan worked out in 2012 on the basis of a rigorous ground assessment - was to have 9-10 A-list Lok Sabha constituencies by 2029 where the party could secure over 20% of the total votes.

It looks like the party is inching towards this goal. The incremental gains seem to be adding up, though it still will take a long time before it achieves critical mass.

In 2014, when the Narendra Modi wave first swept across the country, the party knew it had a whiff of a chance only in two constituencies: Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod.

When the results were out, the BJP had secured 10% or more votes in nine constituencies and in four of these it pocketed more than 15% of the votes (Kasaragod, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta and Thiruvananthapuram). In Kasaragod and Pathanamthitta it had bagged more than 17% votes and in Thiruvananthapuram O Rajagopal pocketed 34% votes, marginally lower than Shashi Tharoor's 34.1%.

So five years later, in 2019, the BJP went to polls with four A-list constituencies. The results threw up 12 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala where the BJP secured more than 10 percent votes. And in eight of these, the party bagged more than 15% votes: Kasaragod, Palakkad, Thrissur, Chalakkudy, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Attingal and Thiruvananthapuram.

Now in 2024, the party claims it has six A-list constituencies where it feels it can either win or be the runner up; four from 2014 (Kasaragod, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta, Thiruvananthapuram) and two from 2019 (Attingal and Thrissur). In Attingal, the vote share ballooned to 24.69% from 11.2% in 2014. And in Thrissur it soared to 28.2% from 11.2%.

Sobha Surendran.

BJP's nomad strategy
The BJP candidate selection is also structured to realise this incremental electoral growth. The usual strategy is to pick a candidate who had done well in a constituency and use her/his acquired stature in another constituency where the party has potential but exists only as a marginal force.

Take Sobha Surendran for instance. She increased the vote share of the party in Palakkad to 15% in 2014 from 8.71% in 2009. In 2019, Sobha Surendran was posted to Attingal where the party was struggling to make its presence felt in a big way and she increased the vote share to 28.2% from 11.2%.

This time, Sobha has been asked to contest from Alappuzha where the BJP, with the help of Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), secured a promising 17.24% vote share in 2019. Hope is she would increase it to at least 25%. And, like a track singer who perfects a composition for the main singer, Sobha has left the field fertile in Attingal for a bigger name, union minister V Muralidharan, to come and take over.

Kummanam Rajasekharan (left) and O Rajagopal. File photo

It looks like O Rajagopal and Kummanam Rajsekharan were the 'track singers' who had worked hard on the orchestra for another lead conductor, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar. The minister is expected to neutralise the global Indian image of Shashi Tharoor and then better both Rajagopal and Kummanam.

BJP state president K Surendran, though not contesting this time, is another example of a nomadic candidate. In 2014, he won 17.7% of the votes in Kasaragod, up from less than 15% in 2009, and had come second in Manjeswaram and Kasaragod Assembly segments. Sensing that he could bring in the votes, the BJP fielded him far south in Pathanamthitta in 2019. He improved BJP's vote share to 28.97% from 17.4% in 2014.

M T Ramesh is yet another example of a BJP nomad. It was Ramesh who first demonstrated BJP's potential in Pathanamthitta, and transformed it into a prestigious seat for the BJP president K Surendran to contest. Ramesh had increased the vote share to nearly 18% in 2014 from a lowly 7% in 2009.

Ramesh's vote-catching abiity will now be put to test up north in Kozhikode where the party has crossed 10% vote share, like Attingal or Thrissur in 2014, but has not surpassed the 15% vote share hurdle.

In keeping with this BJP nomad strategy of 'accumulating stature in one place and investing it elsewhere', there was initially a plan to field Kummanam Rajasekharan, who had secured over 31% votes in Thiruvananthapuram, to Pathanamthitta to improve upon Surendran's performance in 2019.

Anil Antony. Photo: Manorama/ Tony Dominic

Communal experiment
As it turned out, Anil K Antony was chosen. This clearly stems from the BJP thinking that a Christian candidate is better placed to bring in Christian voters who are impressed with Modi but are still reluctant to choose a hardcore Sangh Parivar member.

The party had tried this strategy in Ernakulam in 2019 by fielding Alphons Kannanthanam and reaped only marginal benefits, a less than 3% increase in votes.

The Pathanamthitta strategy has been adopted for Malappuram, too, this time. Former Calicut University Vice Chancellor Abdul Salam will be the BJP candidate. The BJP has never crossed the 10% barrier in Malappuram but even then it has fared better when Hindu candidates were fielded.

During the 2021 by-election, for instance, BJP's A P Abdullakutty's votes shrank by nearly two percent compared to Unnikrishnan's in 2019. It was N Sreeprakash who fetched nearly 8% for BJP in 2014, the highest ever for the party in Malappuram.

Suresh Gopi during a roadshow at Peechi in Thrissur on Monday. Photo: Facebook/@BJPThrissur

Repeat value candidates
However, there are performing candidates who have been kept out of the BJP's nomad strategy. Suresh Gopi and C Krishnakumar, for instance, are not allowed a gypsy life. They will be contesting from Thrissur and Palakkad respectively for the second time in a row.

In Thrissur, the party knows only Suresh Gopi can turn things in its favour. The actor had single-handedly converted Thrissur into an A-list constituency. Krishnakumar, on the other hand, is the product of BJP’s nomad tactic. This former deputy chairman of Palakkad Municipality, had built on Sobha Surendran's 2014 performance, bagged 21.26% votes in 2019, and is using his familiarity and Modi factor to fatten his influence.

Gender advantage
It was a bold move not just to pick three women candidates but to field a debutant, M L Ashwini, in an A-list constituency like Kasaragod. Ashwini, Manjeshwaram block panchayat member and Mahila Morcha activist, was chosen over veterans like national office bearer P K Krishnadas and the Kasaragod BJP district president Ravisha Thanthri Kuntar.

Kerala Mahila Morcha president Niveditha Subramanian, whose mother was jailed during the Emergency, is the BJP candidate for Ponnani. What better way to get introduced to the voters of Kerala than to be seen at Prime Minister Modi's side as he waved at supporters during a highly publicised road show in Thrissur on January 4. It was she who had organised the Prime Minister's 'Sthree Shakthi' meet in Thrissur and has been rewarded with a candidature.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.