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  BJP’s single Kerala seat: What it spells for the state...

BJP’s single Kerala seat: What it spells for the state...

| N.P. ASHLEY
Published : May 31, 2016, 11:13 pm IST
Updated : May 31, 2016, 11:13 pm IST

As the dust settles on the recent Assembly elections, what emerges is a bifurcation of the political tendencies of the 2014 general election: if Tamil Nadu and West Bengal reiterated the political val

As the dust settles on the recent Assembly elections, what emerges is a bifurcation of the political tendencies of the 2014 general election: if Tamil Nadu and West Bengal reiterated the political value of powerful leaders, Assam points to the BJP getting out of the trap of one singular national image (after the disastrous outcomes in Delhi and Bihar) and making intelligent local partnerships while fielding faces connected by consistent narratives of “outsiders”. But it is the Kerala poll results that followed its ritualistic character though with an interesting twist in the single seat won by the BJP.

After every five years, Kerala’s voters opt for a change, and this time has been no different. Had change not taken place, the absolute heedlessness that the Congress-led United Democratic Front showed in the past two years, after winning 60 per cent seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, would have gone uncontested.

In Kerala, the key item of common engagement, if not entertainment, is politics. Adequately funded by the hard work of the expatriate Malayali, the political programme is a daily ritual here since the 1970s. The spectacle of politics is endlessly interesting to Keralites. Hence, the hold of political parties in each and every segment of life is almost complete: to the point that every party has a class one organisation as well as a porter’s organisation in the state, and several in between these two as well. But the use of the same old language and practices have turned political activities into a meaningless, arbitrary and subjective spectacle.

It is interesting to note that a number of expressions that signalled “new politics” in Kerala in the past two years have been either eaten up or dissolved in the party fold: the exciting organic movements floated and championed primarily by women questioning the grammar of politics in Kerala, from the struggle for salesgirls to be permitted to sit during work hours, the “Kiss of Love” movement against moral policing, the women workers’ movement in the tea plantations, the meets against fascism — all, finally, became tributaries for the Left Democratic Front.

The “green politics” projected by some young Congress-front MLAs ended up nowhere in the larger ecologically-insensitive governance. The historic “standing agitation” seeking land for the tribals suffered in its social content when its leader C.K. Janu became an NDA candidate.

The real new item on the menu is the BJP’s single seat in the Assembly. Both the BJP side and anti-BJP side seem to view a “domino effect” in this. This grand symbolic value attached to the BJP’s entry might mean something big for the confidence and morale of its cadre. But to argue that this is the first time communalism has entered Kerala is to miss a lot: the RSS and some of the Muslim fundamentalist outfits have been very active in Kerala for decades.

The BJP apologists wonder why, in a state where the Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (essentially a Christian communitarian organisation) have been strong, the BJP’s presence has become an issue — but these two miss the point. Not really because they are “minority organisations”, but as these two parties don’t subscribe to an Islamist or Christian ideology, the way the BJP does with its Hindutva ideology. Communitarian parties do represent the interests of the community (and it is true that they have often been unethically territorial and insensitive to other communities), but this is different from communal parties which understand their community’s interest always in opposition to that of other communities.

It might not also be correct to count the BJP as a third kind of party. This party can only work in Kerala as far as it wins a new kind of communitarianism of Hindu consolidation, becoming a new face of community politics through new alliances. There are two reasons why the BJP has grown in Kerala: the political one is disillusionment with the two fronts, or the disappointment with certain leaders, social fascism in certain localities, and so on. The emotional reason is the narrative of a “new India” with identifiably religious undertones capturing the imagination of many youngsters in the absence of another narrative. So the emergence of the BJP will only eventually mean majoritarianisms of three kinds in various parts of Kerala: Muslim in the north, Christian in central Kerala and Hindu in the south. It cannot mean a new political ethic in any meaningful sense.

If the public of Kerala can get on without investigating its political foundations, what will be ushered in is a certain politics of balance based on mutual fear among different communities. Once an auto driver in Kannur, an area that is infamous for political clashes between the CPI(M) and the RSS, said to me, pointing to the experience of another area, which had communal conflicts between Hindus and Muslims: “It is good to have political clashes. Or else, communalism will come here too.” That echoed the view of many Malayalis. But there lies no future in this line of thinking. The time may have come to convert this mandate into a turning point: a search to forge a political narrative based on socio-economic and demographic factors, and to do all this ethically. The writer is a socio-political commentator and teaches English at Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College (The Billion Press)