While the BJP suffered an unexpected setback in the Hindi heartland, notably in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, and Haryana, they succeeded in making an inroad into the south Indian state of Kerala, where it failed miserably in opening an account in previous elections. Suresh Gopi, a popular film star turned politician of the BJP from Thrissur constituency, helped the saffron party win its maiden Lok Sabha seat with a thumping margin of 75,000 votes. With the BJP set to form the new government with its allies, the emergence of a coalition government and the lone seat in Kerala open novel opportunities for the former to learn from its mistakes and grow.

With only 240 seats, the BJP fell short of 32 seats to cross the ‘magic number’ of 272 in this election, compelling it to heavily rely on its allies, namely Chandra Babu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) to form the government. While the coalition government will downplay the absolute authority enjoyed by the BJP in the NDA previously, this emerging trend, if cornered wisely, will undoubtedly help the BJP spread its roots in the south Indian states, where they increased their voter share substantially. This time, south indian states gave more vote share to BJP and Kerala is one among them.

The BJP being the political embodiment of the RSS and Sangh Parivar, has strongly advocated its hardcore Hindutva agenda during its past decade in power. However, in the coalition era, where the TDP and JD (U) assume the role of kingmakers, the Modi government will be forced to accommodate the interests of its allies and take a soft-hindutva stance if it is to continue in power. While this stance might strain their relationship with the Hindu extremist groups, it will appeal to the potential electorate of Kerala, who are otherwise critical of the BJP’s pro-Hindutva stance.

In Kerala, the minority Christian and Muslim community accounts for 45% of the total population, only 9.7% lower than the majority Hindu community, which stands at 54.72% according to the 2011 Census. While several Christian groups applauded and subtly supported the BJP’s, more profoundly, the right-wing group’s fight against ‘love jihad’, Modi’s silence on Manipur violence sent a chill down the spine of the Christian population of Kerala. Nevertheless, if the BJP is wise enough, they should pitch down their hindutva stance and try to woo the ‘neutral voters’, who are appeased by infrastructure development, which is symbolised by Vande Bharat trains and high-way development in Kerala. These voters will try to reassure themselves that the coalition partners will checkmate Modi if he crosses the hardline Lakshman Rekha.

The maiden breakthrough for the RSS-BJP in Kerala with Suresh Gopi’s commendable victory from Thrissur constituency, home to some of the most prominent and powerful Christian groups like the Syro-Malabar community, has significantly enhanced the confidence of the party in the state. Even after losing both the 2019 parliamentary election and the 2021 assembly election, Gopi continued his efforts with consistency and perseverance and attempted to strengthen the grassroots organisational structure of the party. This silent homework done by Gopi for the last three years has largely bypassed the attention of the other two fronts. Moreover, multiple rallies organised by Modi in Kerala, along with Gopi’s conscious effort to extend the party’s outreach among non-hindu groups through ‘sneha yatra’ (door-to-door campaign), particularly among the church groups, helped the win. However, associating Gopi’s victory solely with the BJP-RSS efforts should be taken with a pinch of salt since his popularity as a film star, especially among the women voters, and his persona as a compassionate and virtuous individual, coupled with his philanthropic activities, gave him significant momentum in this election.

Though Kerala has long been witness to bipolar parliamentary elections predominantly between the UDF and the LDF, the emergence of the BJP as a strong contender cannot be ignored anymore. The BJP-led NDA increased their vote share by 4% from 15.64% in 2019 to 19.39% in 2024, while the BJP on its own captured 16.83% of total votes, an increase of 3.68% from 2019. This statistic is a clear indication that the floor is open for a strong political opponent. Traditionally, the minority communities of Kerala have backed the UDF. This was indeed reflected in Thiruvananthapuram constituency with Shashi Tharoor’s dramatic win over Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who was otherwise leading in the urban assembly segment comprising upper caste Hindus, with just over 16,000 votes consolidated from the Christian communities in the rural and coastal belts. In constituencies like Alappuzha and Attingal, the BJP has made inroads primarily into LDF’s traditional vote bank consisting of the OBC Hindu Ezhava community, as observed in the former’s increase in vote share by 11% and 6.98%, respectively, as compared to 2019. In the net analysis, the consolidation of minority voters in favour of the UDF and the consolidation of Hindu communities, especially the transfer of Ezhava votes to the BJP, will dent the chances of the LDF’s political rootings in future. Adding to that is the 19% vote share of the NDA in Kerala, which could be in a pole position in at least a dozen seats with 2% more additions to their kitty in future elections. 

Following its inaugural victory in Kerala, the BJP could make a real effort to energise its grassroot institutions to penetrate further into the social fabric of Kerala in hopes of a future win. The decisive 75,000-vote margin not only bolsters the confidence of future BJP candidates by demonstrating their widespread popularity and acceptance but also solidifies the party’s status as a formidable contender in the eyes of the electorate.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

Chairman at Centre for Public Policy Research

Dr Dhanuraj is the Chairman of CPPR. His core areas of expertise are in international relations, urbanisation, urban transport & infrastructure, education, health, livelihood, law, and election analysis. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @dhanuraj.

Sreelakshmi holds an MSc in International Development from the University of Birmingham and BA Honors Economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. She has worked as Academic Coordinator at a Cambridge International School.

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