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Kerala polls: BJP's politics of black-mailing

The Tehelka exposure had hit hard the BJP in Kerala. It came at the most inopportune three days prior to BJP State President, C. K. Padmanabhan, was to conclude his much celebrated ‘Parivarthana Yatra’ at Thiruvananthapuram. Started from the northern tip Kasargode, where Padmanabhan himself is contesting Manjeswaram seat, he repeatedly boasted en-route that several constituent leaders of CPM-led LDF and Congress-led UDF would joint BJP-led NDA alliance before the ‘Yatra’ reaches the state capital. Following Tehelka exposure, Padmanabhan's ‘Yatra’ entered Thiruvananthapuram only to see his own party's national president, Bangaru Laxman, quitting in utter disgrace. Not only that a single soul joined the tiny NDA outfit in Kerala, but the national NDA was in for severe setback with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress leaving the ruling outfit. The jolt to Kerala BJP was compounded with top national leaders like L. K. Advani forced to confine to Delhi to deal with Tehelka fall-out by abruptly cancelling their much publicized Thiruvananthapuram trip to address the rally marking the ‘Yatra’ conclusion.

The May election is vital for BJP. Being the first general election ever held to Kerala Assembly with a BJP Government at the Centre, the local unit of BJP had pinned much hopes this time to gain its maiden entry by opening its MLA-account in the State. Kerala still remains as the lone major Indian state in India where neither the BJP, nor its fore-runner Jana Sangh, could win a single Assembly seat so far since Independence. Padmanabhan himself had started making elaborate preparations at Manjeswaram months ago, with massive backing and support from Sangh Parivar outfits from neighbouring Mangalore area within Karnataka. Yet another seat where BJP is confident of putting at least a spirited contest is Thiruvananthapuram East seat. However, the Tehelka exposure had already upset all these calculations which psychologically took BJP cadres back to square one of facing the polls with utter hopelessness and disgust once again this time.

It is from this angle that the BJP resorted to various tactics to deal with poll-eve awkwardness created by Tehelka. One of this tactics was to prepare a list of staunch anti-RSS candidates in both LDF and UDF with an avowed plan to defeat them in their respective constituencies. According to inside sources, such a list has already been prepared with the intention of blocking all staunch anti-RSS candidates entry into the Assembly. Yet, they did not disclose the listed names. According to BJP leaders, they would watch the poll canvassing scene to decide whether the names should be deleted or sustained in the list. BJP leaders boast that they have the strength to act as the deciding factor in at least 45 of the total 140 constituencies as to who should lose, although they cannot win on their own any of these constituencies. The thin victory margin of less than 3,000 votes in these constituencies in past polls is pointed out by BJP to boast this claim. Plainly in other words, this is regarded as politics of black-mailing. Through these tactics, the BJP hopes to instil some fear in candidates while attacking them from poll platform, if not refraining altogether from criticizing Sangh Parivar politics.

The Tehelka exposure also punctured BJP's hopes of winning minority sections, especially of Christians through a tie-up with Kerala Congress (Mani) of UDF in Central Travancore region. As a fall-out of Tehelka, the Mani group is no more willing for an open alliance with BJP, unlike what they did during the local body polls a few months ago. Yet, in UDF seat-sharing, Mani group was given 11 seats, out of which in one seat they plan to field ‘a commonly accepted independent candidate’. They also made it clear that this would not be a UDF candidate, but of ‘our own’. That is a clear indication that the Mani group preserve the exclusive right to decide as to who would be the so-called ‘commonly accepted independent candidate’. Although UDF Convenor, K. Shankaranarayan (Congress) took pains to repeatedly ascertain that none of the UDF constituents would have connection with any party outside the UDF-fold, there are apprehensions over Mani group's preserving exclusive right to decide the independent candidate for the sake of facilitating consultation with BJP. In other words, this independent to be fielded in a central Travancore seat like Kaduthuruthy will be a ‘commonly accepted’ candidate to be decided solely by Mani group and BJP alone, with other UDF constituents have no say in it.

One of the major problems for Kerala BJP is its failure to create any dent among the Muslims, who constitute 23 per cent of the total population, to gain a secular image. This is unlike a large number of Christians who already had flocked into BJP and even contested previous polls, like Ms. Raichal Mathai. Its tireless efforts this time succeeded in netting the Malayalam writer Dr. Punathil Kunjabdulla, who addressed the concluding ‘Yatra’ rally at Thiruvananthapuram alongwith Padmanabhan. Dr. Kunjabdulla, who has no influence among common Muslims, is also certain to contest as a BJP-backed independent.

In its eagerness to get a secular face by playing Muslim card, the BJP also falsely dragged Jamaat Islami, which was thoroughly exposed and heavily backfired upon them. The March 25 issue of RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, published an item with the intention of creating an overall feeling that Muslims in Kerala are flowing into BJP. In order to substantiate this false impression, the story said that the State General Secretary of Jamait Islami youth wing, P. M. Shajhan, had given an Iftaar party in honour of BJP State President Padmanabhan.

Refuting the Organiser claim, the leading Malayalam daily ‘Madhyamam’ controlled by Jamait Islami said : ‘SIO is the youth wing of Jamait Islami. The SIO does not have a General Secretary named P. M. Shajahan. Clearly, this was not an inadvertent mistake committed by the RSS organ. Because, BJP organ in Kerala, Janmabhoomi, published a prominent item on March 5 on the same Iftaar party. In the editorial page article written by C. Anilkumar, titled ‘Muslim brother to BJP’, P. M. Shajahan was introduced as State Jamait Youth Wing General Secretary. Shahjahan is the self-declared General Secretary of this body without roots anywhere in Kerala.’

According to Madhyamam, since this Iftaar party given by the general secretary of a scarcely known body to the State BJP President created no reaction within Kerala, the RSS English organ tried to use the name of Jamait Islami which has units and activists in all Indian states. The report detailed : ‘P. M. Shahjahan, whom ‘Organiser’ introduced as Kerala State General Secretary of Jamait Islami, was earlier a Muslim League activist. In 1995 panchayat elections, he won Ward 11 of Adikattukulangara Panchayat near Panthalam as Muslim League candidate. Later, quitting Muslim League he joined CPI. Following differences of opinion during last panchayat polls, he was ousted from CPI. This was followed by his Iftaar party given to C. K. Padmanabhan at his house, which created controversy within Adikattukulangara Jamait. None from the Jamait Committee participated in this Iftaar party. The RSS organ is upholding the defection of a local individual leader, who already had functioned in different party outfits, by equating it with the entire Muslim masses of the whole state defecting to BJP. They are doing this with the fond hope of earning dividends in other states by propagating that even Kerala Muslims, who are far advanced in education and other fields, are moving towards BJP.’

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