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Kerala elections: In old battleground with CPM, BJP is retired hurt

A week left to go for the Assembly elections, the BJP has wound up its campaign, including cancelling a rally to be held by Amit Shah on March 25. But here and there, wall graffiti still proclaims, “booked for the BJP”.

THE WRITING on the wall underlines the BJP’s misery in this constituency which holds great political significance for it due to the history of violence between the party and the RSS in this region. Among the three NDA candidates in Kerala whose nomination papers were rejected by returning officers, one was N Haridas from Thalassery.

A week left to go for the Assembly elections, the BJP has wound up its campaign, including cancelling a rally to be held by Amit Shah on March 25. But here and there, wall graffiti still proclaims, “booked for the BJP”.

The nomination of Haridas, the BJP’s Kannur district president, was rejected by the returning officer as his papers didn’t carry the signature of party national president, as required.

After Haridas’s exit, it is the CPM’s sitting legislator A N Shamseer against the Congress’s M P Aravindakshan in Thalassery.

While the constituency has always voted for the Left since 1957, Thalassery and its adjacent areas are very close to the Sangh Parivar’s heart, as well as its ideological and political agenda for Kerala. Over the decades, BJP and CPM cadres have clashed with each other routinely here, leaving many “martyrs” in several villages in Thalassery, and nearby Koothuparamba and Dharmadam constituencies (Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is the candidate from Dharmadam).

Recently, there has been a ceasefire between the CPM and BJP, and the Sangh Parivar has been using the lull to convert the support for it into votes for the BJP. The party saw its votes jump more than three times between 2011 and 2016 in Thalassery (6,973 to 22,125). At this time, the sudden absence of the party has disappointed many.

At Mangad village in New Mahe panchayat, A Usha, who had contested as a BJP candidate in the recent local body elections, says many of the party workers will no longer vote on April 6 polling day. “Never before had the BJP contested in all the panchayat wards. In the recent local body elections, local CPM leaders tried to dissuade me. Even last week, they wanted me to hand over my compound wall for their campaign slogans. They wanted to create trouble. The absence of a party candidate has left the workers totally dejected,” she says.

A local RSS worker in Kadirur, a CPM stronghold in the constituency, says, “Many youths are ready to support the BJP. However, they don’t come out openly fearing the CPM. People are afraid to give their private premises or compounds for the BJP to erect campaign material. Despite that, we have been improving our presence. We have missed an opportunity to boost the morale of our cadres.”

V Sasidharan, RSS vibhag saha karyavahak in Thalassery, admits the absence of a candidate will demoralise supporters. “We hoped to increase our vote share from 22,000 to at least 30,000. Over the years, we have fought against the CPM’s politics of annihilation. In the last elections, the CPM did not allow BJP representatives at many booths,” Sasidharan says, adding that with the BJP absent, the CPM could resort to “any tactic” to win.

The elections have been rife with talk of the LDF and UDF having a secret understanding with the BJP to help them in specific seats. The rejection of Haridas’s papers has been grist to the rumour mill. Haridas denies this: “The rejection was over a technical issue. We were not granted time to submit new documents. We are awaiting a decision from the party state leadership regarding the next step in Thalassery.”

CPM Kannur district secretary M V Jayarajan, however, asks “how could this lapse happen” unless there was a BJP-Congress deal. “That does not worry us. The minority community in Thalassery will stand with us.”

Congress candidate Aravindakshan accuses the CPM of making such allegations to divert attention from the anti-incumbency the LDF is facing. “The CPM has not been able to bring any development to the region,” he says.

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