Will Kerala crucify the BJP for not keeping the faith?

Headlines in Delhi make little headway here; but observers think a lot of Narendra Modi's fanfare was for the benefit of his North India audience

BJP's Suresh Gopi, contesting from Thrissur, tried to woo the Christian community with a crown for the Virgin Mary—which promptly fell off and broke apart (photo courtesy @RishiJoeSanu/X)
BJP's Suresh Gopi, contesting from Thrissur, tried to woo the Christian community with a crown for the Virgin Mary—which promptly fell off and broke apart (photo courtesy @RishiJoeSanu/X)

Alex Chandy

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed Kerala would give the BJP double-digit seats in the Lok Sabha election, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor quipped, “Yes, the double digits would be two zeros.”

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, spearheading the LDF campaign in all the 20 Lok Sabha seats, responded that the BJP would not even come second in any of the 20 seats.

Ahead of the single-phase polling in the state on Friday, 26 April, however, Kerala was awash in BJP publicity materials. Flex banners, floats, hoardings, posters and cut-outs swamped the constituencies, especially in Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur.

There were more vehicles on the road bearing BJP flags and banners than for any other party. Newspapers and TV channels had a bounty of BJP advertisements. YouTubers and digital platforms too got their slice of the cake, as Prime Minister Modi and other star campaigners hit the streets with their road shows. If road shows could win elections in Kerala, we would have no hesitation in declaring BJP the winner, commented a wag.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the BJP candidate against Shashi Tharoor, was accused of filing a false affidavit about his property ownership. A complaint was lodged, pointing out that the billionaire had paid a paltry income tax of Rs 636 in 2022–23.

Kannada film star Prakash Raj, a vocal critic of the BJP, came all the way to Thiruvananthapuram to ask how the billionaire could possibly be poorer than him. “I paid an income tax of Rs 2.5 crore,” he told media gathered at the Press Club. The resultant publicity had to dent the Union minister’s credibility and tarnish his lavish campaign.

The BJP, which is yet to win a single Lok Sabha seat from Kerala, is pinning its hopes on Thiruvananthapuram, where it has put up Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and Thrissur, where actor Suresh Gopi is its candidate. While it polled just 12.9 per cent of votes in the state in 2019, its vote share was higher in Thiruvananthapuram, where it polled 31 per cent, and in Thrissur, with around 29 per cent. In three other constituencies, it had a vote share of around 20 per cent.

The BJP also succeeded in winning over a section of orthodox Christians and in promoting among them the fear of the ‘Other’, the Muslim community—which explains Orthodox churches’ decision to screen for their parishioners The Kerala Story, which peddles the ‘love jihad’ narrative.

Modi’s confidence this time also stems from the reasonably warm response he received in the state, which he has been visiting frequently. But with every visit, #GoBackModi would also trend on social media platform X.

Plus, his silence on Manipur, where a large number of churches were burnt down last year, lost him the good opinion of this faith. He has also ignored the growing violence and atrocities aimed at Christians, which went up from around 147 incidents in 2014 to 687 in 2023.

As a result, support for the BJP has dissipated among the Christians. Dr Thomas J. Netto, metropolitan archbishop of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Trivandrum, advised the laity in his pastoral letter ahead of the polling to vote for the party that practises democratic and secular values. A special mention was made of Manipur.

Archbishop Netto also revealed that the archdiocese is struggling to meet its routine expenses. He spoke of the cost of training seminarians in the wake of the church’s accounts being frozen by the central government over the fisherfolk’s protest in 2022 against the Adani group’s under-construction seaport at Vizhinjam. ‘As the accounts were frozen, the archdiocese is facing difficulty to receive even ordinary aid for mission work,’ he said in the letter, urging contributions from his flock.

During the holy week of Easter, several bishops openly opposed the BJP. The Good Friday sermons from Archbishop Netto and Mar Thomas Tharayil, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Changanassery, spoke of attacks against Christians in various parts of the country and of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The BJP’s beloved strategy of creating inter-communal rifts, in this case between Christians and Muslims, together making up 46 per cent of the electorate, does not seem to have worked.

Several observers believe that while Modi and the BJP knew they would draw a blank in Kerala, the show was designed mainly for impact in the northern states and in the Delhi media. The BJP’s ‘achievement’ of inducting the children of two former Kerala chief ministers, K. Karunakaran and A.K. Antony of the Congress, and fielding them as BJP candidates may impress Delhi, but failed to create any ripples in Kerala.

Political grandstanding does not appeal to the people of Kerala; it’s work done on the ground, the results that matter to them. This is also why Pinarayi Vijayan is not half as popular now as he was during the first five years of the LDF government.

Vijayan, fighting anti-incumbency, has a lot at stake too. Having won only one of the 20 Lok Sabha seats last time, he will be hoping to do better. But that sole LDF seat, Alappuzha, is a touch-and-go affair this time, with K.C. Venugopal of the Congress having the edge.

The LDF is also banking on three former CPI(M) ministers—K.K. Shailaja, Thomas Isaac and C. Raveendranath from Vadakara, Pathanamthitta and Chalakudy respectively.


The other seat the BJP hopes to win is Thrissur, pinning its hopes on Suresh Gopi, who has been a long time preparing for this battle. He has the support of the prime minister, who visited the city thrice in the last three months, once for Gopi’s daughter’s wedding.

The BJP’s volunteers have gone door to door a couple of times, aiming to give the Congress’ K. Muraleedharan a run for his money. He too has been trying to woo the Christian community here and has, with his family, turned up for church services too.

A picture of Gopi with a palm frond in hand went viral on Palm Sunday, 24 March, however. He even gifted a gold crown to the Virgin Mary at Our Lady of Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral before his daughter’s wedding. Sadly, that crown fell off the statue and broke while Gopi and his wife were still in the church. The ‘omen’ went viral on social media, with whispers that the BJP was jinxed in Kerala. Gopi was also accused of offering a sub-standard crown.

And so while Gopi hopes to become the first BJP MP from Kerala, it is Muraleedharan who is the favourite. The UDF is tipped to win a majority or most of the other seats this time too. The only element of uncertainty is over triangular contests in several seats.

The Gandhis have a groundswell of goodwill in the state, with a lot of people rooting for them. In Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, they see the image of Indira Gandhi; in Rahul Gandhi, they see the making of a good leader.

The only thing Wayanad is wondering is whether Rahul Gandhi will contest from Amethi too—and what will he do if he wins both seats?

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines