Where can BJP win in Kerala?

…. opens up the possibility of a tectonic realignment of alliance politics in Kerala with Muslim League switching to the Left in Malabar, and a possible vertical split in Congress party with a chunk of the “I” faction joining NDA. There was a time when nair vote in the state used to follow “I” faction of Congress party, but if nair vote starts shifting to BJP, very high chance “I” faction of congress will start shifting to NDA.

Question remains where BJP can win in Kerala.

While BJP claims the caste equation of BDJS + BJP will help catapult NDA as a prime mover in Kerala assembly, contours of Kerala politics since 1982 when the Left and United fronts came into being makes it very hard for a third front to come close to victory in a meaningful number of assembly constituencies. That said if the alliance can win anything upwards of 10 seats in the 140 member house, NDA will be in the drivers seat, mostly driving towards gridlock since neither left or united front can align with NDA.

Can BJP win 10 seats? At this point it looks highly unlikely. At this point the prospect of BJP winning even one seat looks ambitious, but possible. Since 1982 BJP has contested 850 seats in Kerala assembly elections and won 0. The party has come second in 3 constituencies Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, and Kasaragod and Manjeshwaram in Kasaragod. In Kasaragod and Manjeshwaram, BJP has an average vote share upwards of 30% since 1982.

BJP in Kerala

There are two goals BJP may be working towards in Kerala –

  1. Open account in Kerala – this has long been a pipe dream for the party and 2011 was expected to be the year when BJP gets its first MLA in Kerala. O.Rajagopal was expected to deliver Nemom for the party and open an account in Kerala, a feat stalwarts like K.G.Marar, Kerala Varma Raja and C.K.Padmanabhan couldn’t accomplish.

O.Rajagopal lost to CPIM candidate Sivankutty by a healthy margin, but the groundwork laid for O.Rajagopal’s 2011 campaign addressed the achilles heel of BJP politics in Thiruvananthapuram – the practice of BJP and RSS leaders selling (underperforming) their votes to help both United and Left front in the last minute.

This time around BJP will try to lock Nemom for O.Rajagopal, and go all in on Vattiyoorkavu for Kummanam Rajashekaran. BJP’s one off alliance with Congress’s V.S.Sivakumar has resulted in party fielding it’s weakest candidate, cricketer Sreesanth, against Sivakumar in Thiruvananthapuram Central, expecting a little help from their friend Sivakumar in adjoining Nemom for O. Rajagopal.

    2. Weaken Left in Kerala – Kerala may be the only state where Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress party may end up having a tacit alliance. While opening an account remains a short term win, BJP’s end game is to weaken the left in Kerala. Hence defeating the left and bringing United Front back to power is more likely the 2016 game plan for the party. In a state where elections are determined by 2-5% votes in general, BJP+BDJS will be able to tilt the balance in close to 30+ constituencies. Today left parties get the large majority of Hindu votes and inheriting the mandate of hindu populace is key to ending Bharatiya Janata Party’s miserable run in Kerala.

The “I” faction of Congress party, the trinity of  Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, K.Muraleedharan and Health Minister V.S.Sivakumar, are BJP’s closest allies in the Kerala’s Congress party. The “I” faction of Congress makes the rational argument that UDF is identified as promoting minority interests, and is losing ground among upper caste hindus, hence the need to be soft on hindutva forces in the state. Geography plays a key role in this argument since “I” faction of congress relies on hindu-muslim belts of travancore and malabar for their electoral wins, while “A” group led by Oommen Chandy relies on christian belts of central Kerala for most of their MLAs.

BDJS is contesting 37 seats as part of NDA. But the key here are 5 constituencies that Left has won in the past including Cherthala where BDJS is expected to try split the ezhava vote which traditionally favors the left. BJP’s play in Kerala this time is centered around the BDJS alliance and tacit understanding with “I” faction of Congress. While this strategy will help Oommen Chandy, who has refrained from attacking BJP through the run up to these elections, retain power, soft Hindutva stands have eventually decimated Congress party in many seats.

BJP win in Kerala with 10+ seats while far fetched opens up the possibility of a tectonic realignment of alliance politics with Muslim League switching to the Left in Malabar, and possible vertical split in Congress party with a chunk of the “I” faction joining NDA. There was a time when nair vote in the state used to follow “I” faction of Congress party, but if nair vote starts shifting to BJP considerably, very high chance “I” faction of congress will start shifting to NDA.

kerala opinion poll 2016

BJP’s Top 10

Inspite of the hoopla surrounding BJP’s possible chances in Aranmula, Kazhakootam, etc. it remains that BJP’s end game in 2016 is down to a handful of constituencies. Here are BJP’s best bets so far.

BJP in Kerala

Nemom (probability- HIGH) : Remains BJP’s best bet in 2016. Touting Nemom as O.Rajagopal’s last election, and with a little help from V.S.Sivakumar and Congress “I” faction, BJP hopes to topple V.Sivankutty. The Nemom – Thiruvananthapuram Central – Vattiyoorkavu dalliance between BJP and “I” faction of Congress may reap dividends for both parties, or may blow up like in the past where  Congress did not transfer the promised votes, a common complaint of RSS cadre in the city.

BJP polled 66% higher than their 3 decade average in Nemom last time, and with a median victory margin of 5.5%, the critical factor would be the amount of votes Surendran Pillai, the UDF candidate will poll. In 1996, P. Ashok Kumar had polled 23% of votes for BJP in the height of anti-incumbency against A.K.Antony government, but nowhere close to Rajagopal’s votes. UDF was a distant third in 2011. LDF has gone on the attack, directly attacking Rajagopal’s casteism, which parties have shied away from doing before.

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Kasaragod, Manjeshwaram, Kattakada and Vattiyoorkavu (probability- In Play) :  The two northern constituencies and the two deep south constituencies remain in play for BJP. BJP has star candidates in Manjeswaram and Vattiyoorkavu. K.Surendran has the most probability of a win in Manjeswaram, BJP’s strongest constituency in past three decades, a win that has evaded the likes of K.G. Marar and C.K. Padmanabhan. P.K. Krishnadas upped BJP’s vote share in Kattakada by a whopping 80% in 2011, and is back in the race this time. That said, a weak LDF candidate contributed to BJP’s share in 2011 and Kattakada may be a tough job to repeat.

Kummanam Rajashekaran Vattiyoorkavu

Kummanam Rajashekaran is contesting in one of the state’s strong Nair constituencies of Vattiyoorkavu. He has deep roots in the constituency since Nilackal controversy and it remains to be seen how his “green” interventions play out in this fairly upscale government employees populace. K.Muraleedharan, the true heir of the nair vote and CPM’s strong candidate T.N.Seema makes Vattiyoorkavu one the most interesting contests to watch in Kerala.

Thiruvananthapuram, Kunnamangalam, Palakkad and 132 other constituencies (probability- Low) : 

BJP always had a fair chance in Thiruvananthapuram Central. Hindu Munnani’s Kerala Varma Raja won 21% of the votes in 1987, but since then BJP’s B.K.Shekar experiment and rampant selling of votes has wasted the parties chances here. This time is no different. Sreesanth is seen as nothing but a scapegoat to ensure V.S.Sivakumar wins, and do BJP a few favors in Nemom that matters. C.K. is back in Kunnamangalam which has seen wafer thin margins in the past, and Shoba Surendran will try to build on Udaybhaskar’s 20% votes in Palakkad. BJP will not win in any of these places.

In summary BJP will try to win Nemom, Manjeswaram, Kasaragod, Kattakada and Vattiyoorkavu to open an account. And BJP will try to defeat the Left in the rest 135 constituencies.

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