Kerala ; E Sreedharan lately created news by declaring that he is joining the BJP in Kerala and is expected to contest this year’s Assembly ballots. The 88-year-old technocrat is recognized for directing the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro projects. He is famously noted as India’s Metroman’ and is globally famous. However, this is his initial assignment in politics. For the BJP in Kerala, it is the primary time that a person of Sreedharan’s stature is entering the party. But will it alter the BJP’s fortunes in Kerala?
“Sreedharan’s entry will make an impact, but not that big an impact to win Assembly seats,” says TP Sreenivasan, an ex-diplomat and chief of the Kerala State Higher Education Council. Sreenivasan states that it has just been three months since the Metroman determined to join politics.
“Before this, he has worked on infrastructure projects with the LDF, the UDF, and the BJP, and frankly, any party would have welcomed him with open arms. But he says he chose the BJP because they have a ‘national perspective’,” he continues. Sreedharan had also stated that his aim is not just to succeed in an MLA seat in Kerala, but to help promote the BJP’s opportunities in the state.
With his reputation among the Kerala middle-class, particularly the Hindu middle section, Sreedharan would likely draw a lot of support. But Kerala is also a deeply politicized vote bank, Sreenivasan evokes us.“A traditional Left or Congress voter will not change his vote for Sreedharan. They will say ‘nice guy’ but continue to vote for their party. In that sense, it’s tough to break into these old vote banks,” Sreenivasan said.
Sreenivasan’s remarks support the BJP’s election performance in Kerala in past years. Up till 2004, the party’s vote share in Kerala had not moved past 6%. In the Lok Sabha polls that year, the BJP ultimately headed to get a 10% share. But in terms of voting patterns, the state has always persisted outside of the national mainstream. Even when the Modi wave thrashed India in 2014, in Kerala the Congress and Left cleared the Lok Sabha ballots, winning 8 seats and 5 seats each. The BJP did not get a single seat from the state in 2014. However, in the 2016 Assembly polls, the NDA endured winning 15% of the vote share. It has since deteriorated, with the party gaining 15.56% votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and 15.5% in the 2020 Kerala local body polls.
Senior journalist Pramod Kumar assumes that the BJP wants a different game strategy to win seats in Kerala, not only celebrity candidates.“The kind of votes that the BJP can secure with high-profile candidates like Sreedharan, the party already has it. I believe they’ve exhausted their Hindu vote base,” Pramod says. Apart from several Hindu majority constituencies in Thiruvananthapuram, typically the BJP wins a maximum of 16-17% vote share. In Thiruvananthapuram, constituencies such as Vattiyoorkavu and Nemom are BJP strongholds with a sizable Nair population and a 66% Hindu majority. Nemom is also an ‘elite constituency’ where the party normally covers popular candidates. It fielded O Rajagopal, the party’s only MLA, from Nemom, where he won with a margin of 10.02% in the 2016 Assembly elections.
“These (Nemom and Vattiyoorkavu) are seats which the party wins and fielding Sreedharan only from these specific seats can guarantee a big win,” Pramod continues. Besides this, fielding star candidates is a not new method in the record. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP introduced Suresh Gopi in Thrissur who settled up in the third position after the Left and Congress, after getting 2,93,811 votes. K Surendran, Kerala’s BJP chief, fought and lost from Pathanamthitta in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Despite the Sabarimala women’s entry problem becoming a hot subject during the election period, Surendran came a distant third in the district after the LDF and the UDF. In essence, none of these elegant candidates endured bettering the BJP’s views.“Even if Sreedharan is fielded from a Hindu majority seat and does attract a lot of support, he will get the same polarised Hindu votes. It doesn’t help the BJP break into traditional vote banks,” Pramod said.
So if the party desires to go ahead, it has to succeed in minority aid, he adds. Feminist and social analyst J Devika assumes that Sreedharan’s political approach should not be trivialized.“Whatever said and done, his presence will make BJP more acceptable in Kerala, which is a scary prospect. There is a section of the state’s middle-class who are de-politicized and who vote without party affiliations. These people could be swayed by high-profile candidates such as Sreedharan,” she states.
With Kerala holding 55% Hindus and 45% Muslims and Christians, the BJP is dubious to succeed in the state without opposition votes. Recognizing this, the party has now taken efforts to affect Kerala’s Syrian Christian population into its fold. Out of the 17% Christian population, the majority is Syrian Christian, particularly Syrian Catholics, Orthodox, and Jacobite Syrians. These communities are freer to voting for the BJP unlike Latin Catholics who are a powerful UDF voter support, Pramod adds.
“For a while now, some of the Syrian Christian priests have spoken out about ‘Love Jihad’ and about innocent girls from their community being its victims. They have raised other allegations stating that the Muslim League (IUML) is controlling the UDF (Congress) and that the Syrian Christian community is losing its dominance in the party,” says Pramod.
The community has now split down, with both the Left and the BJP being able to divide into the Syrian Christian votes.“The BJP is getting their support by feeding Islamophobic ideas, such as discussions around ‘Love Jihad’. Syrian Christians have historically had no grievances against the BJP and some of the people in the community are also Modi fans, making the vote bank a soft target for the party,” he explains. To satisfy the fighting Jacobite and Orthodox factions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too met spokespeople from both parties to negotiate the church dispute. Modi’s action was recognized as an exercise in vote bank settlement by many.
The age determinant ; A sector also understands that Sreedharan’s age could be a hindrance in his rush to the legislative Assembly. Many social media users have also queried why he determined to join politics for the first time at 88.“Frankly, I think that is a wrong attitude to have. We’re talking about a man who wakes up at 4 am to do yoga and keeps perfect health, both mentally and physically. So why must he not try his luck in another career?” Sreenivasan asks.
If Metroman ends attaining a seat in the Assembly, Sreenivasan assumes that the center-state connection could develop.“He’ll be able to get more resources and money from the Union government for Kerala, as he has a good pull at the Centre, even with Prime Minister Modi. What we see now is a very confrontational relationship. But it could get better if he wins,” he concluded.