Analysis | BJP’s ‘Project Suresh Gopi’ succeeds in Thrissur. How?

BJP candidate from Thrissur constituency Suresh Gopi celebrates as he leads in the Lok Sabha elections on the day of counting of votes, in Thiruvananthapuram, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Photo: PTI

Malayalam actor-turned politician Suresh Gopi’s victory in Kerala’s Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency – a first for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern state – makes it clear that the saffron party’s decades-long efforts have finally borne fruit. 

He recorded a thumping victory against CPI’s V S Sunilkumar and Congress’s K Muraleedharan. The historic win has surpassed expectations that the triangular contest would be decided by a thin margin. Suresh Gopi’s massive victory margin of 74,840 votes, however,  proves that he was able to establish his influence cutting across all sections.

This was Suresh Gopi’s third electoral race from Thrissur. In his debut, he contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and managed to increase his party’s vote share. In 2021 assembly polls, he was fielded from the Thrissur assembly constituency but lost. By 2024, it was evident that the BJP could not have found a better candidate than Suresh Gopi for Thrissur. 

It looks like the BJP perhaps carried out what could be termed as 'Project Suresh Gopi' in Thrissur. BJP's election strategist Amit Shah announced Gopi's candidature much in advance, giving him an edge in the campaign. To add to that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended four election rallies there. 

However, what contributed most to Suresh Gopi’s victory is his popularity and the philanthropist image, which he had been carefully nurturing over the years with a flurry of charity works. He renovated the Sakthan market in Thrissur using funds from a trust in the name of his late daughter.  

It seems Suresh Gopi enjoyed the support of a wide section of women voters, cutting across party lines, who were impressed by his clean image. The BJP’s choice of Thrissur as the venue for the party's huge women’s meet attended by the Prime Minister was also part of its strategy to attract female voters.

While he was easily the right choice for many among the Hindu voters, apparently he also managed to woo a large section of Christians. During his campaign, he was careful to project himself as a true believer who valued all religions. He had even offered a golden crown to Our Lady of Lourdes

Metropolitan Cathedral even though it led to a controversy during the campaign with his rivals alleging it was gold-plated.  

Despite his two earlier electoral defeats, Suresh Gopi had been able to cultivate the image of a go-getter. 

“Only he spoke about development during the campaign while the rival parties focussed on issues like Manipur violence and Citizenship Amendment Act,” a political analysts based in Thrissur said. A major poll promise made by Suresh Gopi is that the Kochi Metro would be extended to Thrissur.

The BJP’s open campaign that Suresh Gopi will be made a minister if the party retains power at the Centre also worked in his favour.

The saffron party's machinery worked overtime in Thrissur apparently under the direct watch of the national leadership. The party was accused of transferring a large number of votes from the neighbouring Vadakkanchery assembly constituency to Thrissur.

In retrospect, it looks like an all-out effort to ridicule the BJP candidate on social media and other platforms also backfired. The controversy over the crown which tried to put Suresh Gopi’s faith in question and a police case accusing him of sexual harassment seem to have created some sympathy wave for him.

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