Column | Celebrating Modi, but nothing to cheer for in Kerala

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to celebrate nationwide the 20th anniversary of Narendra Modi becoming the chief minister of Gujarat on October 7.

P P Mukundan, formerly the BJP general secretary holding organisational charge of Kerala, had been in the party leadership even a decade before Modi's ascent to power. The Kerala leader held the same position when Modi took oath as the chief minister in 2001.

The BJP's Kerala unit is upbeat over the upcoming celebration. However, Mukundan's take on the present state leadership may not be music to them.

Taking a swipe at the state leadership, Mukundan recently said "it is not strong enough even to issue a statement." Though not in the party now, Mukundan's words still find resonance with his followers within the party.

Criticisms that singe the state leadership are neither new nor isolated. BJP state president K Surendran and his leadership have been under attack, both direct and indirect, from within and outside the party. It was not long ago that the influential BJP general secretary fired a salvo, apparently at Surendran, through a Facebook post: "Memories of Deendayal-ji could help reclaim the morality lost in the comforts of power."

Even six months after the election in which BJP received a major backlash, no attempts have been made by the party leadership or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to mend the party image. Two reasons have been debated for inaction:

K Surendran Photo @surendranbjp / Twitter

The central leadership would oust Surendran from the helm at any moment. Two, he would be allowed to continue for one more year to complete his term as the president.

Superstar or RSS nominee?
The absence of a suitable alternative has been playing out in Surendran's favour. A person with little organisational experience like Suresh Gopi finding a place in the list of possible party presidents reflects the pathetic state of the BJP. The state leaders have ruled out the possibility of Gopi replacing Surendran, since they believe that he is interested in one more term as a member of the Rajya Sabha. His current term will end next year.

The leaders in Kerala felt that Gopi's active participation in public affairs and moves to establish strong links with the national leadership are part of his desire for a second term in Parliament.

Another name doing the rounds is that of Valsan Thillankeri, state president of the Hindu Aikya Vedi. The possibility of Thillankeri replacing Surendran cannot be ruled out since he could be another RSS experiment after Kummanam Rajasekharan. Thillankeri, who recently met the NSS and SNDP leaderships, is actively involved in unifying Hindus. A section of leaders believe that his activities could possibly be part of his future political assignment.

Suresh Gopi
Suresh Gopi

From Muraleedharan to Sobha
Several BJP workers and leaders feel M T Ramesh is the most eligible leader to lead the party's state unit. But like Surendran, he is also facing charges of factional favouritism. Ramesh and A N Radhakrishnan, also a president-hopeful, do not have 'godfathers' at the national level.

Three leaders from Kerala have close contacts with the central leadership: V Muraleedharan, P K Krishnadas and Sobha Surendran. Krishnadas is not known to follow a style supporting his group members as the president. Surendran, however, has the support of Muraleedharan, and they both have the blessing of party general secretary B L Santhosh. Many leaders believe that Santhosh's interests in South India have been protecting Surendran.

Sobha Surendran, who often revolts within the party before going into a strategic silence and frequent Delhi to cement her contacts, may not be hopeful that the RSS would support a woman leader as the state president.

The committees that looked into the BJP's electoral defeat have warned that the allegations of financial dealings and recurring defeats have made party workers inactive. This would go against the central leadership's trust in the strength of workers.

The party not only lost Nemom, its only seat in the previous assembly, its votes in 39 constituencies were reduced by more than 5,000 votes than it won in the 2016 polls. This has led to allies losing faith in the BJP.

Though the party deployed even senior leaders at the booth level on Deendayal Memorial Day, it did not provide the desired result of sprucing up the workers' confidence.

The party is now seeking solution to the problems it now faces even as the central leadership has temporarily turned spectator.

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