NEYYATINKARA: "I will do what the party says’’ was how O Rajagopal smilingly shrugged off the first batch of reporters who rang him up to confirm his candidacy in Neyyatinkara. Some three weeks and the take-off phase of campaigning later, the Grand Old Man of Kerala BJP is proving himself to be a stiff pain in the neck for the beleaguered LDF and UDF.
The 83-year-old’s emergence as a dark horse has created a neatly-etched triangle upsetting matters for the UDF and the LDF which were planning to settle down for a dirty but uncomplicated bypoll fight down south. The BJP is banking on the former Union Minister’s natural charm, clean slate and the political quagmire that is sucking in the UDF and the LDF to see him through.
But Neyyatinkara is scarcely a friendly neighbourhood. This the BJP leadership knows as well as the next man. To the uninitiated, the intricate community make-up here can appear, as Churchill said of Russia, a ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. And everybody is looking for the key. Moreover, the Congress is wracking its collective brains over how staunch party workers would react to the presence of R Selvaraj- until recently a CPM man - as the UDF face in Neyyatinkara.
The fifth minister issue also is not going to help, it knows. In the normal course of things, a political killing in distant Kannur should not create much of a ripple in Neyyatinkara. But T P Chandrasekharan has become a symbol, a process to which rabid CPM outbursts and aggressive media coverage have contributed.
How the VS faction in Neyyatinkara reacts also remains to be seen. The BJP strategy hinges on playing up these aspects and showcasing Rajagopal as ‘just the thing you wanted’ among the 1.6 lakh electorate. Rajagopal can also expect some sympathy from impartial as well as women voters.
“First, the UDF went on the defensive on the fifth minister issue. Then it was the LDF’s turn with TP’s murder. But the CPM going on the backfoot would not help the UDF this time. Selvaraj is simply not the candidate for that,” BJP state president V Muraleedharan said.
Also, the usual practice of cross-voting by the LDF and the UDF to defeat a BJP candidate at the last moment would not happen this time, believes the BJP. According to Muraleedharan, Rajagopal should bag 40,000-plus votes in the ‘normal course of things’ and the political situation should ensure more votes in the BJP kitty.
That is big expectation even for Rajagopal, considering that his predecessor in Neyyatinkara, Athiyannoor Sreekumar, cornered only 6,730-plus votes.
The powerful Christian community in this constituency is a mosaic of numerous groups and denominations that the BJP does not expect a concerted effort to defeat a BJP candidate. BJP leaders had also met Latin Archbishop M Soosai Pakiam and CSI Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam. As for the strong Nadar community as a whole (both Hindu Nadars and Christian Nadars), they already have a choice between Selvaraj and LDF’s F Lawrence, both Nadars.
Rajagopal’s hope in this direction is the relatively fewer Hindu Nadar votes. He can hope for stronger support from the Nair, SC and Ezhava communities here, however. “Before deciding on Rajagopal, the BJP leadership had talked over matters with the NSS and SNDP leaders,” Muraleedharan said.
Given the political situation, what the BJP looked for was the ideal candidate to fit that situation. “Rajagopalji is our best bet,” he said.