RSS has climbed the hill in Kerala, but why is BJP not winning elections?

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The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has grown slowly but surely in Kerala, the last state where the Communist Party still has a hold. Its members and branches have grown so much that the RSS recently divided Kerala into two ‘provinces’ for better management.

However, BJP has struggled in Kerala. Isn’t it natural that the growing footprint of the Sangh is reflected in the BJP’s electoral performance? Then why BJP has not developed as much as RSS in Kerala?

The story of the growth of the Hindu right-wing organization in Kerala is interesting, as the Communists formed their first government here in 1957. In fact, it was the country’s first non-Congress government. Kerala is also the last refuge state for communist parties sitting from West Bengal and Tripura.

The RSS grew organized in the region favoring the Communists. According to a senior RSS worker, the density of RSS branches (regular gatherings) in this small state is higher than in the heartlands of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

There are 5,142 branches in Kerala, according to data published by the Akhil Bharatiya Pratini Sabha, the top policy-making body of the RSS.

This growth prompted the RSS leadership to divide Kerala into two ‘provinces’ in March.

“The division of Kerala into two ‘provinces’ is for better management with growth in the number of branches. For example, Gujarat was divided into two RSS provinces in 2021,” Prafulla Ketkar, editor of RSS’s magazine, Organiser, tells IndiaToday.In.

Number of RSS branches in Kerala showing steady growth. (Source: All India Representative Sabha; Photo: Vashu Sharma/India Today)

Communists of Kerala joined the RSS after the crisis

Kerala was part of Tamil Nadu ‘province’ till 1964.

Kerala saw a sudden rise in RSS membership between 1977 and 1982.

“RSS membership has grown in Kerala after the crisis imposed by Indira Gandhi. Kerala had a Congress government under Karunakaran. The crisis was supported by the CPI and only the Sangh fought against it. The Sangh saw a shift of members from the Communist Party,” said Prafulla Ketkar. says

J Nandakumar, national coordinator of RSS think tank, Pragya Flow, says “deluded” youth Communist Party members joined the Sangh.

“The Sangh was thriving since the 40s, but boomed after the crisis. Young Communist Party members were disillusioned that their ‘revolutionary’ party was not fighting the crisis. There was an influx of CPM cadres into the RSS from 1978. 1980,” J Nandakumar told IndiaToday.in. says

At that time there were large-scale attacks on those who had joined the RSS in Kerala.

“Most of the RSS workers killed by the communists were their former workers,” adds Nandakumar.

That friction has continued and has resulted in regular incidents of hacking of Left and RSS activists.

“The Sangh is more active in southern Kerala while in the north, it has faced resistance,” says Prafulla Ketkar, adding, “RSS has grown the most in places where it has faced the most resistance”.

Recently, there are also fatal Clash between members of RSS and Islamic organization Popular Front of India (PFI)..

Factors behind slow growth of BJP in Kerala

If Sangh grew slowly in Kerala, why BJP could not?

“The BJP in Kerala is facing stupendous challenges like any other state,” said an RSS worker on condition of anonymity because members of the Sangh do not officially comment on the BJP.

A series of RSS and BJP activists told IndiaToday.In that there were four obstacles in the way of the party’s electoral performance in Kerala.

Demography, all said, was the biggest hurdle. Second was “vote transfer” between the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front. Third, “leftist propaganda” and fourth, the killing of local BJP leaders.

“Since the late 60s, since the Jana Sangh, the BJP has lost more than 300 leaders in Kerala. We lost hundreds in the 80s. If it hadn’t happened, we would have become Karnataka by now. How can a party exist? If local leaders Will increase if killed?” S Jaishankar, head of BJP’s Kerala IT cell, told IndiaToday.In.

Kerala sees regular fatal attacks and counter-attacks.

“Hundreds of cases have been filed against BJP, Sangh and ABVP leaders in Kerala and all have been beaten up by the police. We deal with the Communist Party, Muslim League and Congress here,” says Jaishankar.

BJP’s lack of popular local leaders in Kerala will be another important factor. Unlike Tamil Nadu, where the BJP has Annamalai, it has no poster boy in Kerala.

BJP and RSS leaders also said that the “Left propaganda machinery” had painted the Sangh and the saffron party as “anti-liberal and regressive”.

“The people of Kerala did not want to join the BJP because of the propaganda. They also felt that the votes cast for the BJP were wasted because the party was not a viable option,” says a Kerala RSS leader. who did not want to be named.

Left liberals from Kerala spoke to IndiaToday.In, saying that despite the communal undercurrent in the state, people have risen above the divide while voting. This he attributed to people being “educated and politically conscious”. They said that this was the reason why BJP was confined in Kerala.

CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP AA Rahim also makes the same claim.

“Progressive Kerala will never accept Hindutva politics of RSS. As long as there is Left in Kerala, RSS agenda and Hindutva politics will not work in Kerala,” CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala A.A. Rahim told IndiaToday. .in.

Rahim, who is also the All India President of DYFI, contests the growth story of the RSS.

“RSS is an organization that does not give membership to its workers, so how can they say that they have grown in Kerala? The claim that RSS has grown in Kerala is only based on fake numbers and some technical issues,” says Rahim.

The leftist leader then asks the most pertinent question. “Why are they [the BJP] Also losing election deposits where there are many branches of RSS?

BJP’s loss: Kerala’s demography and the LDF-UDF ‘nexus’

Kerala BJP leader PK Krishnadas told IndiaToday.In that “strategic vote transfer” between the state’s population and the LDF and UDF comes in the way of a better performance by the party. However, he hopes that the Kerala BJP’s efforts will show results in this Lok Sabha election and the 2026 assembly elections.

Kerala’s population, where Christians and Muslims make up 46% of the population, puts the BJP at a disadvantage.

The BJP has tried to woo the Christian community in Kerala and has made Anil Antony, son of veteran Congress leader AK Antony, its face for the community. Christian leader PC George’s outreach also got a boost after he merged his Kerala Janapaksam (Secular) Party with the BJP.

“We expect a good percentage from the Christian community in this election,” says Krishnadas.

Among Hindus, the largest communities are the Ezhavas at 25% of the state’s population and the Nairs at 12.5%.

While the Nairs do not vote within the group, the larger Ezhva community has traditionally supported Left parties.

“Even out of the state’s 54% Hindu population, more than half vote for the CPI(M). Even the Brahmin Nambudiris vote for the Communists,” says the RSS leader.

To cut into the Ezhava votes of the CPI(M), the BJP has formed an alliance with the Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), led by the Eazhava outfit Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP).

Krishnadas tells IndiaToday.In that the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF swap votes between themselves to take on the BJP, which has hurt the party’s performance in recent elections.

“It is never a three-cornered fight. The LDF and the UDF unite against the BJP in seats where they see that we are strong,” says Krishnadas.

BJP’s Kerala struggle and hopes among the youth

In Malayalam, a formidable task is known as ‘Bali Kera Mala’, a mountain that even the strong monkey king Bali of Kishkindha in the Ramayana could not climb.

RSS has climbed the difficult mountains of Kerala. But what about BJP?

Though the electoral performance does not reflect it, the BJP has grown like the RSS in Kerala, say BJP leaders.

“Like the RSS, the BJP is also growing in Kerala. Out of 25,000 booths in Kerala, the BJP is present and has supporters in 22,000 booths. We have seen an overall vote share of 16.5% in the 2016 assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Our vote share in seven-eight Lok Sabha seats is over 30%,” says Krishnadas.

This will soon convert to seats, he says. “The BJP will win some seats in Kerala this Lok Sabha election and a good number of seats in the 2026 assembly elections,” says Krishnadas.

Another BJP leader from Kerala said that the Lok Sabha results will show that the BJP is ahead in two dozen assembly seats.

“The Lok Sabha elections will be a curtain call for the 2026 Kerala assembly elections. This is Modi’s election, and winning some Lok Sabha seats will be a big game changer for the BJP in Kerala,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized. To talk to the media.

“The BJP has grown significantly in Kerala. Like the RSS, the BJP is present in almost all villages. The BJP in Kerala has over 1,000 elected representatives in local bodies, more than Tamil Nadu and some other states,” he says. .

RSS leaders themselves say that it is unfair to compare the growth of the Sangh and the BJP. “The BJP needs 30-40% of the population to win seats, but the Sangh can work with even 5% of the population,” says an RSS leader.

However, the BJP leader says that there will be a change in this Lok Sabha election and BJP’s agenda is only development.

“Narendra Modi’s push will be a big factor. Malayalis have realized that LDF and UDF have ruined Kerala and all its industrial sectors. Our election promises are ‘New Kerala’ and ‘Modi ki guarantee’,” says Krishnadas.

BJP leaders say that the youth in particular yearn for change and will support the party. If indeed this happens, it will be similar to how the youth members of the Communist Party promoted the RSS after the crisis.

(Article updated with quotes from CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP AA Rahim)

Published on:

April 1, 2024

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