New Delhi: The upcoming assembly elections in Kerala and Tamil Nadu hold significance for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as their outcome will decide the course of the party’s expansion plans in the south, where it has only managed to taste power in Karnataka.
Speaking to ThePrint in an exclusive interview, Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs and former BJP president of Kerala V. Muraleedharan said the party is confident of coming to power along with its ally AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and of improving its performance in Kerala.
“As far as Kerala is concerned, we will improve upon our position. And in a way establish ourselves as a prime candidate for the space in Kerala. As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, we are sure that we will be able to come to power along with ally AIADMK,” he told ThePrint.
Asked about the growing perception of the Modi government stifling voices of dissent, the minister dismissed the allegation and said that in no other part of the world, opposition leaders indulge in name-calling of the prime minister.
“Where is that (crackdown on) dissent? Because this is the country where the prime minister can be criticised, any sort of names are being called, there is nothing going on against that. So perhaps in no other country in the world would we have opposition leaders accusing the prime minister, calling him (names),” he said.
“I don’t want to spell out those names. So even within Parliament or outside, the opposition is free today, they are holding agitations, this kisan agitation, CAA agitation went on for months together and nobody cracked (down) on them. So there is no such (crackdown on) dissent,” Muraleedharan added.
On the letter written by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to Union Home Minister Amit Shah earlier this week following the alleged harassment of four nuns in Uttar Pradesh over ‘forcible conversion’, the minister said “it has nothing to do with BJP coming to power, or it has nothing to do with the place where it happened”.
“Such incidents have happened in Kerala also. Such incidents have been happening in every part of the country. It’s the local(s), some elements who are out for such things. And we are not aware who has done that, accusing Right-wing extremism and all, it’s going to fall.”
“In fact, on this issue, the honorable (home) minister of the country has specifically, categorically said that anybody who is trying to create such issues will be brought before the law and as stipulated by law, action will be taken,” he added.
‘It’s a tri-corner fight in Kerala’
Asked if the party is trying to woo the Christian community considering that the prime minister met a number of church leaders in Delhi earlier this year, the BJP leader said “that was a meeting on the basis of the request that he received from the Church leaders”.
“Our prime minister meeting the Church leaders has nothing to do with the BJP’s political agenda,” he said.
The minister then explained that as far as fielding candidates is concerned, the party has fielded the largest number of Christian candidates in Kerala. The party had fielded Christian community candidates in the local body polls too, he added.
“We have around eight Christian candidates now in the state of Kerala. So we would definitely like to have the votes of every section of the society and Christian community is a peace loving society. So we would definitely like to have their support,” he added.
Asked if Kerala was going to witness a direct contest between the BJP and the Left, or whether Congress is also one of the main contenders, he said, “I don’t say that Congress is irrelevant. But Congress is moving towards sunset. That’s what I would term it. But of course, as of now, it’s a tri-corner fight. That is the situation.”
‘Sabarimala an important issue in Kerala polls’
Asked why the party has recurring themes such as action against cow smuggling, restoration of temples and anti-conversion laws in all its election manifestos, the minister said, because “issues of faith are as important as issues of development”.
“See, the thing is, others are a bit reluctant to spell out such issues, because these issues are also important. Because issues of faith are as important as issues of development. So man doesn’t live by bread alone. Along with bread, there are many other things which make a human being a complete human being. So we cater to the interests of all those aspects of an individual’s life or a citizen’s life.”
“So we definitely have demands on Sabarimala Kerala. Others are hesitant and others feel that if they say something about Sabarimala, they’ll be considered as non-secular. We don’t consider it so. We feel that Sabarimala is an important issue in the state of Kerala as far as these elections are concerned,” he added.
About the opposition’s claim that the BJP can only bank on Nair votes, Muraleedharan said, “… this is malicious propaganda that has been unleashed by the opposition to portray BJP as an upper caste party”.
“In fact, BJP has party workers and party office-bearers from every section of the society. Out of the four general secretaries, we have one Christian and one general secretary from the Scheduled Caste community, even though there is no reservation among the general secretaries as such for particular communities in the BJP’s constitution. And the party is led by a person who belongs to the OBC community in Kerala.”
“The (BJP) president doesn’t belong to the Nair community. But we have a fair amount of support, good support from among the Nair community as well as from the Other Backward Classes communities and SC.”
Muraleedharan also dismissed speculation about ‘metro man’ E. Sreedharan being the CM face in Kerala.
“The (BJP) state president had said that the people of Kerala would like to have a person like Sreedharan as the chief minister. But that doesn’t amount to an announcement as chief ministerial candidate.”
“But what happened was that some of the media reported that he has been announced as the chief minister candidate. So without verifying from the party, I reaffirmed. Later on, I came to know that the party had not announced, so naturally I have to be honest. That is what happened,” he added.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)