Kerala: 3-day Jaishankar sojourn is early BJP move in Mission South

Party's Kerala chief Surendran tells South First that the party has already started focusing on six Lok Sabha constituencies. Thiruvananthapuram is top among them.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jul 14, 2022 | 8:39 AMUpdatedJul 26, 2022 | 11:17 AM

S Jaishankar in Thiruvananthapuram

A day after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took a dig at External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s inspection of an under-construction flyover at Kazhakoottam on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, his son-in-law and Minister for Tourism and Public Works PA Muhammed Riyas on Wednesday, 13 July, stepped up the attack, asking the BJP leader to count the numerous potholes on the national highway stretches in the state.

Noting in the Kerala Assembly that the maintenance of national highways is the responsibility of the BJP-led Union government, Riyas quipped that the number of potholes is only matched by the number of press meets held by Jaishankar’s deputy and Kerala MP V Muraleedharan against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.

Jaishankar left for Delhi after completing his three-day visit to the Kerala capital after reviewing the progress of certain infrastructure projects and interacting with a cross-section of voters in Thiruvananthapuram, who, according to him, are beneficiaries of different schemes of the BJP government.

BJP eye on Kazhakoottam

S Jaishankar in Thiruvananthapuram

BJP leader and Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during his visit to Sree Narayana Guru’s birthplace at Chempazhanthy Gurukulam in Thiruvananthapuram on 11 July (PTI)

But Vijayan’s public statement seeking the real intention behind the sudden Thiruvananthapuram visit of the Delhi-born minister— who represents Gujarat in Rajya Sabha — despite his busy schedule amid pressing global developments, including the Sri Lanka crisis, has focused attention on the trip. Vijayan wondered why a busy minister such as Jaishankar was inspecting the Kazhakoottam flyover, forgetting his huge responsibilities.

Kazhakoottam, the IT capital of Kerala, has a congregation of upper-middle-class people, most of whom are upper-caste Hindus. In the Assembly election held last year, the BJP’s firebrand leader Sobha Surendran emerged second in the fiercely contested triangular contest in which CPI(M) leader Kadakampally Surendran won with a majority of more than 23,000 votes. Congress candidate Dr SS Lal was pushed to third place, unlike in the past.

Thiruvananthapuram for Jaishankar

Now, the CPI(M) believes Jaishankar has been given the responsibility of Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency by the BJP leadership. However, the elections are over a year-and-a-half away.

Other than inspecting the flyover construction progress, the Union minister attended half a dozen other programmes in Kazhakoottam, indicating that the BJP wishes to concentrate on the Assembly segment.

S Jaishankar with O Rajagopal in Thiruvananthapuram

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar interacts with senior BJP leader O Rajagopal during a meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on 11 July (PTI)

Seven Assembly seats constitute the larger Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency from where Congress leader Shashi Tharoor won for the third time in the 2019 election with a thumping majority of nearly 1 lakh votes.

In that poll, LDF candidate C Divakaran suffered a humiliating defeat while the BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan emerged second.

So the BJP has high hopes this time and believes preparation would yield results. And that over-enthusiasm has provoked the chief minister.

Along with Kazhakoottam, the Nemom Assembly constituency in the southern part of the city remains a BJP citadel.

In the 2016 Assembly election, the BJP opened its account for the first time in Kerala when the Nemom elected party veteran O Rajagopal with a majority of 8,000 votes.

Though CPI(M) candidate V Sivankutty recaptured the constituency last year with a margin of 3,949 votes and defeated Rajasekharan, the BJP continues to view it as a stronghold.

BJP’s Kerala plans

S Jaishankar with O Rajagopal and K Surendran in Thiruvananthapuram

BJP leader and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during the inauguration of a beneficiary sammelan in the Kerala capital. BJP Kerala president K Surendran and party leader O Rajagopal are also seen (Twitter/surendranbjp)

When contacted by South First, BJP state president K Surendran said the party has decided to concentrate on six among the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state much in advance, and that the list began with Thiruvananthapuram.

He said the BJP is happy that the chief minister responded to the visit, claiming Vijayan has realised the gravity of the challenge that has just begun.

When asked why the Union minister spent three days in the capital, Surendran said the aim was as simple as reaching out to the local electorate about the Narendra Modi-led Union government’s achievements.

Surendran said the visit of such a top-ranking minister would invigorate party cadres and help expand the BJP’s base. Meanwhile, Jaishankar, responding to a media query during his stay in the Kerala capital, said that he was attempting to get a good understanding of what was happening on the ground.

Shashi Tharoor’s constituency

Though Tharoor was not available for comment, his party’s district president Palode Ravi expressed confidence that there would not be any change in the political preference of the constituency in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, despite the possible visits of prominent Union ministers in the coming days to interact directly with voters.

Ravi said the constituency witnessed a similar kind of show by the BJP during the last Lok Sabha election, and many sections of the media predicted a massive victory for the saffron party in Thiruvananthapuram.

Ravi said the considerable clout that the BJP enjoyed in the Kazhakoottam and Nemom segments is not seen in other areas, especially the coastal belts of Kovalam, Vizhinjam, and Balaramapuram.

More BJP ministers in Kerala

Leaders of the BJP said when contacted that it was during the national office-bearers’ meeting of the party in Jaipur in May this year that the proposal to start preparatory work for the 2024 Lok Sabha election emerged.

The specially identified constituencies include 144 seats that the party lost in the 2019 general election. In each constituency, one Union minister would take charge and be responsible for proper coordination.

Besides Thiruvananthapuram, the BJP is also focusing on the Attingal, Pathanamthitta, Mavelikara, Thrissur, and Palakkad Lok Sabha constituencies. While Jaishankar just completed his first outreach in Thiruvananthapuram, the BJP’s Union ministers Shobha Karandlaje and Bhagwanth Khuba have initiated their tasks in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta and Palakkad, respectively.