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December 26, 1997
BJP plays Ezhava card to gain foothold in Kerala
D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram
The Bharatiya Janata Party is yet to make its presence felt in the Kerala legislative assembly but it has still hopes to bag a parliamentary seat from the state in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. If the Ezhava community, a backward Hindu group, obliges.
The party's think tank in the state has decided to test their luck at Kollam, the heartland of the Ezhavas. BJP president L K Advani himself will visit the coastal district on December 26 to launch the campaign. This move is the culmination of the party's long efforts to wean away the Ezhavas from the Communist fold.
When the BJP first failed to make headway with the Ezhavas, it tried to wiggle into the groups' good books by supporting them when the Shivagiri math, the resting place of their social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru, was allegedly under attack by successive governments.
It protested loudly when the United Democratic Front government decided in 1995 to send in the police to resolve a power struggle amongst the senior sanyasins. The party complained again when the Left Democratic Front government decided to take over the administration of the math following another power struggle in the sanyasin leadership.
The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came out in the street, claiming to be the only political group interested in protecting the sanctity of the math, held in great veneration by the Ezhavas. The elections should tell how successful the BJP has been in drawing the Ezhavas away from the communists.
While the average Ezhava had not complained about the government's actions at Shivagiri, there is some anger at the move by the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist to stop job reservations for the creamy layer of the community and its attempts to back one faction of sanyasins over the other at Shivagiri.
But few parties think the BJP has any hope of success.
State Congress president Vyalar Ravi said he did not think the common Ezhavas would desert the Communist party, however aggrieved they were with the government. He told Rediff On The Net that, despite all their efforts, the BJP might not garner more than 100,000 votes in these elections. In the last election, the party had fielded Nina Pillai, wife of business tycoon Rajan Pillai who died in the Tihar jail in the absence of proper treatment. The attempt to draw the anti-Congress votes failed and Pillai came away with just 55,000 votes. The seat was won by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, an ally of the communists, by a margin of over 108,300 votes. In the earlier elections, in 1991, the BJP polled just 16,507 votes.
The BJP had turned to the Ezhavas after they failed to win over the Nairs, the other dominant Hindu community in Kerala who had severed links with the Congress-led UDF in the last election. Ravi claimed the community would be back in he Congress fold this time around.
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