Knives are out in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Kerala unit over its unimpressive show in the civic polls despite the central leadership applauding the results.
The results, which were declared on Wednesday, had given a resounding victory for the ruling CPM- led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the village, block, district panchayats, municipalities and corporations.
While the results dealt a severe blow to the main Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) which secured second place, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came in third position.
On Thursday, BJP national president J.P. Nadda had praised the state leadership for its improved performance in the election. In a tweet, Nadda thanked the people for voting for the BJP. “With this mandate, we will continue to expose the corrupt, communal, and hypocrite politics of both LDF and UDF fronts,” he said in the tweet. The BJP national general secretary B.L. Santhosh also appreciated the party’s performance in the polls.
Though the BJP made tall claims of tripling its seats in the high pitched campaign, it managed to make only a ripple. Despite its claims of a better performance, the numbers point to a different picture. According to the state election Commission, BJP won 10 village panchayats, against 14 in the 2015 civic polls. The only gain it made was in municipalities, where it's number has gone up to two from one in 2015. However, it didn't open account in the block or district panchayats in the state.
The party’s poor showing in the prestigious Thiruvananthapuram Corporation hasn’t gone down well with many senior leaders too. The BJP was pinning its hope on the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation and its leaders have also made lofty claims that they will dislodge the LDF this time from power. The LDF gained a majority in the corporation while the NDA had to comply with second place and less number of seats than in 2015. The party couldn’t retain its earlier tally in the 100-seat corporation. BJP’s former president and its sole MLA O. Rajagopal felt that it was a wrong strategy to focus its campaign on the alleged “gold smuggling scams” against the Pinarayi Vijayan government.
Speaking to Outlook, Rajagopal said that the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation results were disappointing and the BJP’s performance wasn’t up to the mark. “Instead of focusing on PM Modi’s development agendas, the party campaigned on cheap stunts like “gold smuggling” case. We couldn’t capitalize on favourable factors. Our future course of action will be decided in the party core meeting soon,” said Rajagopal adding that there is no infighting in the party.
The results have also deepened the fissures within the party, with more leaders calling for change in the state leadership. Dissidence has been brewing for some time as senior leader Sobha Surendran came out with strong criticisms against state chief K. Surendran’s functioning of the party.
Questions were also raised by its detractors on the party’s inability to match up to its claim of bagging 6,000 wards and 100 panchayats in the election. To consolidate the minority vote base, the BJP, for the first time, has also fielded 500 candidates from the Christian community and more than over 100 from the Muslim community. However, the party can take heart from making inroads in the southern districts and some Left bastions.
Political analyst J. Prabhash told Outlook that though the BJP projected a big win this time, it failed to match up to its own expectations. He feels that the BJP will have to present a more inclusive and strong narrative to penetrate the state electorate.
“The tokenism of fielding minority candidate won’t work. The BJP should be able to strike a narrative, which appeals to all sections of the population,” he said.
According to the latest reports, the NDA has registered a vote share of 14.52 per cent in this election. Its vote share stood at 16.36 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2017 Assembly polls, it registered a vote share of 15 per cent.
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