BJP’s desperate political gamble in Kerala

P. Sreekumaran

The induction of Alphons Kannanthanam into the Narendra Modi Cabinet betrays the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) desperate attempt to expand its vote base by wooing the Christian community.
But the move is seen unlikely to yield the desired results as the ground reality is entirely different. Unless there is a radical change in the attitude of the BJP, RSS and its fringe organizations, the Christians do not seem to be in a  mood to reach out to the Modi dispensation at the Centre.
In other words, the BJP will have to go beyond tokenism to build bridges of understanding with the community, which continues to be wary of the BJP’s intentions.
True, Latin Catholic archbishop Soosa Pakkiam and the archbishop of Syro Malankara Catholic Church Mar Baselios Cleemis have welcomed the decision to have Alphons in the Union Cabinet. But the tone and tenor of their statements reflect the reservations of the Christians vis-à-vis the BJP-RSS combine. They cannot be blamed. They have every reason to be cautious about the BJP’s new-found love for the community, given the continuing attacks against its members, Christian institutions and their places of worship in various parts of the country, especially in north India, by members of the militant Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
In fact, the Bishops had in their meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah during the latter’s latest visit to Kerala conveyed their grave concerns over these incidents. Significantly, the meetings were held at the initiative of Shah and not the other way round. Which itself shows the  apprehensions of a beleaguered community. That being the stark reality, there can be no genuine understanding between the Christian community and the BJP unless there is a complete halt to the attacks by the militant Hindutva outfits.
The BJP’s central leadership obviously thinks that the induction of Kannanthanam into the Union Cabinet would yield positive results and trigger a pro-BJP flow of Christian votes. That is exactly the reason why Kannanthanam has been made a minister.
But one Kannanthanam won’t reverse the setbacks the Kerala BJP has suffered of late. First and foremost, Kannanthanam does not have a mass base. He has always been a lone ranger in the party. It is significant that not many top party leaders in the state have made any welcome statements on his entry into the Cabinet.
That is indicative of the sense of resentment the state BJP leaders harbour against the move, ignoring their claims for a cabinet berth. With the possible exception of party MLA O Rajagoplan and Kerala BJP chief Kummanam Rajashekharan, other factional leaders of the party have maintained an eloquently deafening silence!
The central BJP leadership has made what it thinks is a deft political move to woo the Christians. And their immediate target is the Kerala Congrss (Mani) led by former finance minister and KC(M) chief K M Mani.The thinking is that through Kannanthanam, they can reach an understanding with Mani. But it would not be easy for Mani to make a firm commitment in the absence of a firm go-ahead signal from the Church, which is yet to come.
Also, the KC(M) cannot turn a blind eye to the shabby treatment the BJP has meted out to its one and only ally in Kerala, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS). Although the BDJS has not severed their ties with the BJP so far, there is no denying the deep disillusionment within the party over the BJP’s arrogant refusal to concede their demands.
Therefore, it is not going to be easy for the BJP to expand its vote base by wooing the Christian community. One Kannanthanam swallow does not make a BJP supper in Kerala.
The task is, therefore, cut out for the BJP leadership. They cannot completely ignore the displeasure among the current lot of state party leaders over the Kannanthanam elevation move. However unpalatable it may be, the central leaders will have to take the state party leaders along.
That their claims have been ignored because of the poor performance of the BJP in Kerala is clear. The humiliation they have been subjected to is a punishment for the non-performance of the party in the state. The message is loud and clear: unless you perform you will perish. The state BJP leaders will have to imbibe the shape-up-or-ship-out message.         
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has struck the right note by welcoming Kannanthanam’s induction. Obviously, the CM hopes to benefit from the cordial relationship Kannanthanam has maintained with the left leaders. Interestingly, Kannanthanam became an MLA in the state with the support of the CPI(M). It was his soaring political ambitions which made him cross over to the BJP camp. But Kannanthanam has not been overly critical of the CPI(M) or its leaders in public. This should stand the state in good stead, especially because of the portfolio he has been allotted: Tourism and additional charge of IT. If Vijayan-Alphons chemistry endures, it can yield rich dividends for Kerala which has tremendous potential for the development of tourism. Pinarayi must be complimented for adopting a practical attitude towards the representation of Kerala in the Union Cabinet. (IPA)

Saturday, 16 September, 2017