BJP is the only party that has improved its performance in Kerala: V. Muraleedharan

Minister of State for External Affairs says clarification has been made on question of E. Sreedharan as party’s CM face in Assembly polls

Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan speaks to The Hindu on the upcoming Assembly polls in Kerala.

What is the thinking around pushing for a Chief Ministerial candidate on behalf of the BJP in the Kerala Assembly polls, specifically with regard to E. Sreedharan?

On Thursday, I had seen some news media reports that Mr. Sreedharan was decided on as a Chief Ministerial face. But later on when I spoke to the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) State unit president, who said that during the course of his speech, related to issues of development in Kerala, he had said that people would like to see a Chief Minister like E. Sreedharan in place of Pinarayi Vijayan or Oomen Chandy. This was misunderstood by the media as an announcement and it was reported, but since no such announcement has been made, a clarification was made.

Also read: Surendran retracts remarks on CM candidate

But is the Kerala unit veering around to the view that a Chief Minister face needs to be projected?

It has not been discussed with me at least, possibly with the State unit president, whatever the case, it will be acceptable to me as a party worker.

The BJP claims that it has up to 15% vote in Kerala, but your performance in the recently concluded local body polls has not been encouraging. How do you square your claims with what happened in the local body poll?

First of all, even in the local body polls we polled a similar number in poll percentage, and we can’t say that the BJP’s performance was not good. We are the only party that improved its performance from the last time around, we saw an increase in the number of seats we won.

Who do you consider your main rival in Kerala, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) or the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF)?

Both. We don’t differentiate between the two, as we don’t think that they are in any way different from each other. Governments led by both parties have had corruption allegations laid against them.

But whose victory will be more advantageous to your future expansion?

We like to think that our growth will be regardless and we would like to win decisively.

The Sabarimala issue had given a lot of traction to the BJP in Kerala but the local body polls again did not reflect this traction. Is the Sabarimala issue still alive for the BJP?

I don’t think that any issue is there for years together, issues keep on changing, but BJP is the only party in Kerala that has grown steadily from 6% vote to 15%-16%. We have almost tripled our strength. In Sabarimala in the 2019 polls, people felt that the Left Front government should be taught a lesson, and though BJP was at the forefront of the agitation, they felt that for them to ensure the defeat of CPI(M), they should vote for the UDF.

But in the local body polls, the LDF did well in areas around Sabarimala.

See, Lok Sabha elections are different from local body elections and, going ahead, issues in the Assembly polls will be even more different. So one cannot compare one election to another.

Then, if not Sabarimala, what will be the main plank for your campaign?

Development that the BJP can bring and the misrule by both the LDF and UDF governments.

On the question of development, Kerala ranks quite high in all sorts of development indices and the current government has gathered kudos for its handling of the pandemic as well, so won’t that be a difficult narrative to defeat?

See, you also might have read the reports, that now almost 70% of COVID-19 cases are from Kerala and Maharashtra. Secondly, if Kerala ranks so high on development indices, how come Kerala has the largest number of expatriates? People [are] not finding jobs in the State and [are] having to travel out. Yes, the State ranks high in term of human capital, it’s an educated society with hard working people, called ‘God’s Own Country’, but this hard work is not used up in Kerala. So, development is not there in the way that it should be and whatever development is there is not because of the governments ruling the State, but the character of the people who earned outside the State and sent home money to be used here.

In all these years, the BJP has been trying hard to make inroads into Kerala and Tamil Nadu but has been unable to do so, unlike, say, in Karnataka. Why do you think that is, in Kerala specifically?

Every State is different, you cannot have the same parameters for all States. Kerala is a State where each individual has a political thinking, so as a community people don’t shift, but at the same time, BJP has been growing. Maybe in other States, the BJP has been growing in geometrical proportions. In Kerala, we are growing in arithemtic proportions.

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