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OPINION | Stage is Set for Protracted Political Battle in Kerala

Signals emanating from the top-brass of the RSS-BJP combine suggests that after having upped the ante, it is not keen to immediately step down on its broadsides against the CPI(M) as this would be politically counter-productive.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay |

Updated:August 6, 2017, 3:37 PM IST
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OPINION | Stage is Set for Protracted Political Battle in Kerala
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley visited Kerala on Sunday and met the family of an RSS worker who was hacked to death last week. (Getty Images)
Ongoing bilateral 'peace talks' in different districts of Kerala between the CPI(M) and the RSS-BJP combine to contain ferocious hostilities between the cadre of the two outfits and avowal of state leaders of both sides that there is need to lower the temperature is indication that the two are equally culpable. But question mark looms over their commitment to put an end to violent clashes.

Despite agreement on holding peace meetings, the BJP-RSS has chosen to further the victimhood narrative for political advantage.

Union minister Arun Jaitley's visit to Kerala on Sunday and the press conference in New Delhi on Friday addressed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, seen as the next Sarkaryavah, or executive head of the outfit, has to be framed with this objective as the backdrop.

The visit suggests that despite talks, conducted following the missive from the Centre, the political objective is to raise tempo in the stand-off between the two sides.

The CPI(M) too is unwilling to give any quarter to its ideological adversary and is countering the challenge by intervening at three levels: the Politburo's strident statement issued on Friday, the state government's initiatives and the party's reach out to lower rungs of the party. This has set the stage for a protracted political battle amid little hope that the current level of hostilities will be curtailed.

Signals emanating from the top-brass of the RSS-BJP combine suggests that after having upped the ante, it is not keen to immediately step down on its broadsides against the CPI(M) as this would be politically counter-productive.

Though state elections were held just a year ago, the Sangh Parivar appears keen to wage a protracted battle at all levels as part of the strategy to make further gains in 2019.

It needs to be recalled that in 2014, the BJP's veteran leader, O Rajagopal stood a close second to Shashi Tharoor losing by only 15,000 votes.

In the last assembly polls, in 2016, Rajagopal won the Nemom assembly seat, a Thiruvanthapuram suburb, by a margin of 9000 votes, marking it maiden entry in the Kerala Vidhan Sabha. BJP candidates came second in seven other constituencies showing that the party had shed its also-ran label.

Kerala is among those states where the BJP support stems from the presence and network of the RSS.

For decades, despite its dedicated shakha base, the RSS failed to significantly ensure its support for the BJP as cadre opted for UDF candidates in hope of defeating LDF nominees. But as the verdict in 2016 — and previously in 2014 — demonstrated, Hindu consolidation in favour of the BJP and its allies, has enabled a stronger performance than before at the cost of the UDF.

The BJP does not wish the performance in 2016 to be a flash in the pan but aims to step on the accelerator to emerge initially as a significant third force and eventually as the principal rival to the LDF, a possibility that will remain remote till BJP is able to make Kerala Congress-mukt too.

Violent clashes, particularly in Kannur district, between BJP-RSS combine and CPI(M)has a history dating back to several decades. Despite claims by both sides of being the victim, data provided to local media by police demonstrates that neither side's claim to be uninvolved in furthering violence is valid.

Immediate reciprocity of attacks by the two camps has also been observed for long. But both sides selectively present data but with the Sangh Parivar now has the advantage of numerous avenues and leaders making claims and ensuring publicising these. In contrast, the CPI(M) publicity pathways are limited.

Being the ruling regime ensures greater media coverage and the BJP is paying back in the same coin. For long the CPI(M) met with greater success in playing victim as reports on attacks on RSS workers found few takers in media.

Political parties remember democracy mainly when not in power and in Kerala, the BJP is attempting to emerge as the principal opposition. Publicising Sangh's version of attacks on its cadre through press conferences and public and media utterances by leaders, it is believed, will assist the BJP's in this objective.

The strategy to claim victimhood status has to be seen in the context of this campaign used by political adversaries of the Sangh Parivar since the Modi government assumed office.

This strategy was resorted, correctly so, to in the backdrop of growing social violence against minorities and people opposed to the BJP. RSS-backed groups active in social media and its important leaders by personal utterances, have stepped up attack against people who protested BJP policies and government failure to stem targeted violence by mobs.

For instance, a campaign has been mounted on various fora asking where are the "#NotInMyName people" after RSS worker, Rajesh Edavakode's murder allegedly by CPI(M) activists in Thiruvanathapuram! Delegitimising campaigns of the adversary is a deliberate ploy to further its own rhetoric.

Although the RSS began its serious effort to secure a foothold in Kerala only in the wake of the anti-Emergency agitation, its leadership was guided by 'Brahmincal decorum'. This is not the true for the organisation now as it matches the ruthlessness of the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo. The RSS is also no longer apologetic about its engagement with politics and makes little effort to underscore its 'cultural character' as it did previously. The BJP and RSS feed off each other more than ever before and we are witnessing the emergence of the most articulate and intent HUF ever.

With its ambition in Kerala unambiguous, the RSS-BJP combine is only expected to step up the campaign that its activists are victims of violence unleashed by CPI(M) cadre. This campaign will continue to be run at several levels as at present. While the Union government will mount pressure on the state government, leaders in individual capacity and as organisational representatives are likely to publicly campaign on this and not just in Kerala.

This will enable the BJP to reach out to new audiences in Kerala and elsewhere and also identify and cultivate a new leadership that can enable the party to prepare for future hustings.

(The author is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He authored Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. His Twitter handle is @NilanjanUdwin. Views are personal)
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