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BJP's Kerala growth story: Numero uno in 11 assembly seats, ready for tight 3-way fight in 30

  • Saffron party's vote share up by 100% in Pinarayi Vijayan's Dharmadom constituency

Kasaragod: After casting his ballot at RC Amala Basic Upper Primary School at Pinarayi on April 26, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan publicly censured Left Democratic Front (LDF) convenor and CPM central committee member E P Jayarajan for meeting BJP leader Prakash Javadekar in the presence of a "dubious middleman". 
On the counting day on June 4, a surprise was awaiting him. In the chief minister's own booth, the BJP votes more than doubled to 115 from 53 in  2019. 

That was just the tip of a massive iceberg. BJP's silent strides in north Kerala were drowned by the big victory of Suresh Gopi in Thrissur, where he defeated the UDF's saffron-checker K Muraleedharan and LDF's local boy and former minister VS Sunil Kumar by cornering 37.8 per cent of the vote share and with a massive margin of 74,686 votes. He became the first BJP MP to be elected from Kerala. The other hero was former Union Minister and BJP leader Rajeev Chandrasekhar who kept Congress's three-time MP Shashi Tharoor on tenterhooks for much of the counting day, before falling short by 16,077 votes.

Across Kerala, NDA's vote share rose to 19.21 per cent, an increase of 3.57 per cent compared with the 2019 Lok Sabha election — nothing extraordinary for a relentless party with  Himalayan patience for Kerala. But the devil lies in the details.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP came first only in one of the 140 Assembly segments, which was in Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. It came second in seven assembly segments -- Kasaragod and Manjeshwar in Kasaragod LS constituency; Thrissur assembly segment in  Thrissur LS constituency; Adoor in Pathanamthitta; and Kazhakkoottam, Vattiyoorkavu, and Thiruvananthapuram.

In 2024, the BJP came first in 11 Assembly segments, thanks largely to its big win in Thrissur, second in nine segments in five districts, and close third (margin less than 5,000 votes) in 10  assembly segments in nine Lok Sabha constituencies. And that sets the ground for a keen three-cornered fight in 30 of the 140 assembly segments in Kerala.

The assembly segments where BJP was in number one position are Kazhakkoottam, Vattiyoorkavu and Nemom in  Thiruvananthapuram LS seat; Attingal and Kattakkada in Attingal LS constituency; Manalur, Ollur, Thrissur, Nattika, Irinjalakuda, and  Puthukkad in Thrissur. 

Assembly segments where it came second are Manjeshwar, Kasaragod, Palakkad, Haripad, Kayamkulam, Varkala, Thiruvananthapuram, Kovalam and Neyyattinkara.
In Thiruvananthapuram, Parassala was the only segment where it was relegated to the third place, where it trailed the LDF by just 697 votes.

BJP's share in Kerala pie
After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had only Thiruvananthapuram with more than 30 per cent vote share. Today, it has three constituencies in that bracket --  Thrissur (37.8 per cent), Attingal (31.6 per cent) and Thiruvananthapuram (35.5 per cent). But the BJP is working harder in constituencies with lesser presence. In 2019, BJP had less than 10 per cent vote share in six constituencies -- Kannur (6.5 per cent), Vadakara (7.5 per cent), Wayanad (7.21 per cent), Malappuram (7.96 per cent), Alathur  (8.81 per cent) and Idukki (8.55 per cent). The number was 11 in 2014. 

Today, the number of constituencies with less than 10 per cent vote share is only one -- that is Malappuram, steady at 7.9 per cent. 
In 2019, the party had 10 constituencies with vote shares between 10 per cent and 20 per cent -- Kasaragod, Kozhikode, Ponnani, Chalakudy, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Mavelikkara, and Kollam. Today, 13 constituencies are in that bracket. 

Alappuzha, a stronghold of the Left, was catapulted to the 20 per cent to 30 per cent bracket, thanks to BJP's vote-catcher Sobha Surendran. It now has a vote share of 28.3 per cent, up from 17.22 per cent in 2019. 
In 2024, BJP  was number two in Haripad and Kayamkulam assembly segments, trailing Congress's stalwart KC Venugopal by only around 1,400 votes. In  Ambalappuzha and Karunagappally, the BJP was in third position but behind the LDF's sitting MP AM Ariff by only 110 and 191 votes, respectively. 

Ten years ago, the BJP did not even field its own candidate in Alappuzha. BJP's 11.08 percentage-points leap in Alappuzha under Sobha Surendran was the highest for the party in this election.
The second biggest jump was seen in the Left bastion Alathur, where BJP's TN Sarasu took NDA's vote share to 19 per cent from 8.81 per cent, a 10.19 percentage points rise.

Suresh Gopi increased the BJP's vote share in Thrissur by 9.61 percentage points -- the third highest for the party -- to  37.8 per cent. In Thrissur, the BJP largely ate into the Congress's vote share, which dropped to 30 per cent from 39.83 per cent.

In Wayanad, BJP state president K Surendran, another vote-catcher, increased NDA's vote share by 5.79 percentage points to 13 per cent fighting against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. He came third in all the seven assembly segments. But in Sulthan Bathery, which he wanted to rename as to Ganapathi Vattam, he trailed CPI's Annie Raja only by 4,749 votes. In other six constituencies, he trailed the CPI candidate by 14,000 votes to 30,000 votes.

BJP workers celebrate party's victory in the polls. Photo: AFP

North Malabar riddle
In North Kerala, however, a different game played out in the election. BJP's vote share increased by 100 per cent in Left bastions, including Pinarayi Vijayan's constituency Dharmadom. In the Kasaragod Lok Sabha constituency, BJP fielded Ashwini ML, a popular face in Manjeshwar and Kasaragod assembly segments but little known in the rest of the constituency which stretches up to Payyannur and Kalliasseri in Kannur district. She was pitted against CPM's Kasaragod district secretary MV Balakrishnan and Congress's sitting MP Rajmohan Unnithan.

BJP's votes dropped by 75 to 57,179 in its bastion Manjeshwar, compared to 2019. In Kasaragod assembly segment, the BJP's votes increased by 0.86 per cent to 47,032. But come to Trikaripur -- a left bastion on the border of Kannur and Kasaragod, and BJP almost doubled its votes to 17,085 from 8,652 (a 97 per cent increase). In Payyannur, another left bastion, BJP's votes increased by 99 per cent to 18,466 from 9,268. In Kalliasseri, the increase was 80 per cent to 17,688 from 9,854. (All three seats are held by CPM MLAs.)
In all these segments, Congress's Unnithan, who went on to win the election, was also making healthy gains. The trend was the same in Taliparamba assembly segment in Kannur Lok Sabha constituency. BJP's vote increased by 93 per cent from 8,659 to 16,706.

In 2019, when Congress's K Sudhakaran pipped the LDF's PK Sreemathy by 725 votes in Taliparamba, the CPM pulled up its socks and resolved to restore its dominance in 2024. 
In 2024, Sudhakaran extended his lead in Taliparamba to 8,787 votes. In the Chief Minister's home constituency of Dharmadom, a red fortress, the BJP increased its vote by 95 per cent to 16,711 votes.

The BJP had fielded C Raghunath, a Congress turncoat who joined the party just six months before the election. His claim to fame was that he contested against Pinarayi Vijayan at Dharmadom in 2021.

Several CPM workers in Kasaragod and Kannur said they wanted to send a 'course correction' message to the state government but did not want to help the Congress, either. "So we voted for the BJP candidate who will not win in any case. It was a political protest," said a woman member of CPM's branch committee in Trikaripur.

Anil Antony, an anomaly
Anil Antony, son of Congress veteran AK Antony, turned out to be an anomaly in the BJP's 2024 success story in Kerala. He was fielded from Pathanamthitta, where K Surendran contested in 2019 and increased the vote share to 28.95 per cent from 17.4 per cent in 2014.

But in 2024, BJP's vote share dipped by 3.45 percentage points to 25.5 per cent. Among the 20 constituencies, NDA's vote share dipped only in Malappuram (0.06 percentage point), Chalakudy (4.36), where BJP's ally Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) contested, and in Pathanamthitta.

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