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NDA’s answer to Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad is a powerful OBC leader & liquor baron

Thushar Vellapally, who hails from one of Kerala's richest families, leads an outfit that represents the Ezhavas, a powerful OBC community in the state.

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Bengaluru: Congress president Rahul Gandhi will have to contend with another challenger in the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat, with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) announcing Thushar Vellappally, the president of its ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), as its candidate for the constituency.

The BJP is banking on 49-year-old Thushar’s antecedents in its bid to leave a mark on what is being perceived as a two-horse race between the Congress and the Left Democratic Front (LDF).

Thushar’s BDJS represents the Ezhavas, a powerful OBC community that is Kerala’s biggest. He is also the vice-president of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), a charitable society established in 1903 working for the upliftment of the Ezhavas. The general secretary of the SNDP, an influential organisation in the state, is Vellappally Natesan — Thushar’s father.

The BJP appears to have taken into account the demographic profile of the region in fielding Thushar. While the constituency is dominated by minorities, Ezhavas consist of 14 per cent of the total 14 lakh population of Wayanad district.

The decision is also being perceived as an attempt by the BJP to show that all its NDA allies are united in Kerala. This after the BDJS stayed away from an Ayyappa Jyoti event, which was organised by the BJP and the RSS.

The two parties have had a history of disagreements. In March 2018, for instance, Thushar had announced that the BDJS would not support the BJP in the Chengannur by-elections.

“We have not got the posts at the Centre that were promised by the BJP. They had offered these positions to us but there has been no movement on this,” Thushar had then said.

Also read: Not just a ‘safe seat’ for Rahul Gandhi, Congress sees Wayanad as key to its southern revival

The rise of the Vellapallys

Born in Alappuzha district of Kerala in 1969, Thushar comes from a very affluent background — the Vellapallys, primarily liquor barons, are considered one of the richest families in Kerala.

For a larger part of his professional life, Thushar handled his family’s liquor and hotel businesses.

Although he has been a part of the SNDP for several years, his political stint has been relatively short. The Lok Sabha polls are his electoral debut.

The BDJS itself was floated by Natesan, Thushar’s father, in 2015 and became a key ally of the BJP in Kerala. Thushar took over the mantle from his father.

A graduate in Business Management, he had been an active student leader. His close associates say Thushar helped in framing the Backward Classes Welfare Development Board in the early ’80s.

“He led a march to the Guruvayur temple against discrimination and double standards that prevail in Hindu society,” said K.K. Maheshan, a close friend of Thushar. “From 1996, he travelled across Kerala to unite the community during the SNDP elections.”

BJP national president Amit Shah, who announced Thushar’s candidature, on Twitter Monday, acknowledged Thushar’s public life experience. “A vibrant and dynamic youth leader, he represents our commitment towards development and social justice. With him, NDA will emerge as Kerala’s political alternative,” Shah had tweeted.

The BJP now believes that his presence in Wayanad will make it a three-pronged fight.

“He (Thushar) will be known as the man who converted a two-cornered fight between the Left and the Congress to a three-cornered one,” said V. Muraleedharan, BJP leader and a Rajya Sabha MP. “The Ezhavas are a sizeable population in Wayanad and there is every chance that Thushar will give Rahul a tough fight.”

Also read: Rahul contesting from Wayanad a fight against Left & not BJP: Kerala CM Vijayan


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