Minister Suresh Gopi: Modi’s hero who scripted BJP’s Kerala story

Suresh Gopi . Photo: Manorama

A fallen hero and his emotionally satiating comeback is a recurring theme in popular cinema. In his nearly four-decade career as an actor, Suresh Gopi did not have to play many such characters. Daring police officers, upright politicians, fearless journalist, lionhearted liquor baron – his heroes have often been the alpha male -- stubborn physically and emotionally. There was no question of a comeback as they never failed. 

In real life, Suresh Gopi is nevertheless known for his comebacks -- be it in his profession as an actor or his passionate career as a politician. The latest among them has gifted the BJP its historic win in Kerala’s Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency. His elevation as a Union minister marks a milestone in Suresh Gopi’s eventful life as well as BJP’s political trajectory in the southern state. Whether one agrees with his ideological path or not, Suresh Gopi has just proven that there is nothing wrong in being ambitious as long as you are prepared to work your way up.

Suresh Gopi at the oath taking ceremony. Photo: Screengrab/ Manorama News

At 65, he became BJP’s first-ever Lok Sabha MP from Kerala in the third electoral contest after two defeats, first in LS elections and then in assembly polls, in a span of five years. In the five years, he kept working amid his potential electorate even as controversies one after another followed him.

IPS aspirant turns Mollywood’s man in khaki
Born in Alappuzha, Suresh Gopi grew up and studied in Kollam. A postgraduate in English from Fatima Mata National College, Suresh Gopi was bitten by the civil service bug for a brief time. He took the exams twice but by then destiny had already scripted his role as a film actor. His ambition to become an IPS officer, however, was realised on the screen multiple times in the nineties. He was the essential Mollywood cop who rules the box office for years until he met with a series of failures by early 2000s. 

Politics was always part of Suresh Gopi’s life, though it changed colours in between. During his college days in the seventies, he was active in the Students' Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the CPM. He still remembers the late Communist Chief Minister E K Nayanar, as his “favourite comrade”. He also keeps great respect for late Congress stalwart K Karunakaran. He campaigned for the CPM-led Left Democratic Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front in different constituencies in the 2006 assembly polls.

Suresh Gopi (Left) with his friends in college. File Photo: Special arrangement.

In the late 70s, he played his own part in the Save Silent Valley movement against a proposed hydroelectric project in a tropical rain forest in Palakkad. In an interview, he recollected writing a letter to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, addressing her as “Dear mother”. She abandoned the Silent Valley project in 1979. In his post-Lok Sabha victory speech, Suresh Gopi remembered Indira Gandhi as the “real architect” of India, something unimaginable from the saffron camp these days.
Suresh Gopi found his space in Mollywood playing side roles to Mohanlal and Mammootty in films such as 'Vazhiyorakazchakal', 'January Oru Orma', 'Irupatham Noottandu', 'New Delhi', '1921' and 'Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha'. 

By the early 90s, he found his way to stardom as he got the opportunity to play lead roles in a series of thrillers. 'The News', 'Thalasthanam', 'Ekalavyan', 'Commissioner', 'Mafia', 'Rudraksham' and 'FIR', several of them helmed by Shaji Kailas, made him the much-awaited action hero of Malayalam cinema.
In between, he proved his acting prowess in the 1997 movie 'Kaliyattam', which landed him the national award for best actor. His stardom started fading in early 2000s and it took a few years for him to make a comeback with 'Bharathchandran IPS', a sequel to his all-time hit 'Commissioner.' However, his career graph witnessed a fall again, thanks to monotonous plots and characters. His acting career saw a break again from 2015 to 2020. However, the period offered him an opportunity which in hindsight looks like his political launchpad. 

From 2012 to 2015, he hosted 'Ningalkkum Aakaam Kodeeshwaran', a popular Malayalam TV quiz show. The programme made him a household darling as he kept announcing charity works throughout the show, unravelling his philanthropic face to his audience.
Kerala had already seen Suresh Gopi’s humanitarian side in the early 2000s when he threw social stigma for a toss and hugged two children infected with HIV. 

Suresh Gopi’s philanthropy was not restricted to TV alone. “I happened to attend an event at a temple in Alappuzha along with Suresh Gopi before he joined the BJP. There was an artist who was part of the temple committee and his financial situation was not good. I had seen Suresh Gopi interacting with him. Later I got to know that Suresh Gopi arranged some money for building a house for him,” George Kurian, BJP general secretary in Kerala, and another minister-designate from the state, told Onmanorama.
Suresh Gopi carried out his charity works mostly through a trust formed in the name of Lakshmi, his daughter who died in an accident when she was a toddler. 

Modi finds a partner
Suresh Gopi calls Narendra Modi and Amit Shah his political gods. It was Modi who realised Suresh Gopi’s potential as a politician first. Ahead of his 2014 mandate, Modi met prominent people from different parts of the country and Suresh Gopi was one among them. The meeting between Modi and Suresh Gopi took place on March 1, 2014 and it lasted for nearly three hours. 

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

“Suresh Gopi told Modi about the developmental and welfare programmes he wanted to implement in Kerala, including better education for tribal children. It turned out that Modi had already implemented in Gujarat most of the ideas Suresh Gopi had in his mind. Naturally, Modi identified a potential partner in Suresh Gopi,” BJP leader C G Rajagopal, who along with Gujarat-based Malayali doctor Jayachandran arranged the meeting, told Onmanorama.

Modi wanted Suresh Gopi to contest from Kollam or Thiruvananthapuram in 2014 itself but he was not ready. In 2016, the BJP nominated him to the Rajya Sabha and he joined the party. His Rajya Sabha stint gave him the opportunity to address the needs of the people in several parts of the state.

By the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Suresh Gopi had become part of the BJP ecosystem and a favourite of Modi and Amit Shah. The duo found in him a strong contender in Thrissur, a constituency where they saw huge chances just like Thiruvananthapuram. Suresh Gopi, with his star power, personal appeal and unwavering support from BJP national leadership, improved the party’s vote share sizeably, though the seat went to the Congress. This is despite Suresh Gopi and his party trying hard to amplify the Sabarimala women entry row. In 2021, Suresh Gopi was fielded in Thrissur assembly constituency and he ended up second behind CPI by 5,000 votes.

Between 2019 and 2022, he was made a member of the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Coconut Development Board. 
Despite the two losses, Suresh Gopi stayed put in Thrissur and did extensive networking among different sections of people. His efforts, along with the BJP leadership’s desperate attempts to woo the Christian community, and massive support from women across political and religious lines, seem to have contributed to his victory in Thrissur. 

Beef remark and harassment case
Unlike his sharp-tongued heroes, Suresh Gopi speaks in a mild tone usually in real life. However, after his political entry, there have been several occasions when his heroic hangover prompted to make distasteful remarks which landed him in trouble. 
Last year, he stated that he would pray to god to curse the non-believers of the world. On another occasion, he said he wants to be reborn as a Brahmin so that he can worship Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala temple from inside the sanctum sanctorum.

In 2015, he supported the beef ban in Maharashtra. Though he claimed that he had never eaten beef, he got exposed with the resurfacing of a video in which he spoke about eating beef.
In October 2023, he found himself in big trouble when he was booked for sexual harassment on a complaint by a woman TV journalist. Suresh Gopi took to Facebook to apologise.

If the election results are anything to go by, the huge mandate Thrissur has given to him proves the controversies have not had any impact on his political career. Now, with the BJP fulfilling its promise to make him a minister in the Modi Cabinet, action is on for the politician-actor.

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