“There is no scope for violence in democracy,” said Yogi Adithyanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in Kannur. The ‘charismatic leader’ from the Hindutva bloc was speaking in Kerala during his party’s ongoing ‘Janaraksha Yatra’ in the southern state.
It will be intriguing to watch a leader like Adithyanath, who in the past showed he has least respect for non-violence and inclusive and pluralistic democracy, speaking about non-violence. What forced a man, who runs his own private vigilante army called “Hindu Yuva Vahini”, and who has been known for engaging in racist and hateful speeches, and for targeting religious minorities, to speak in the language of ‘non-violence’? The answer lies in the electoral history of Kerala, a state that has never given a chance to BJP to emerge as an influential political power.
Many BJP critics in the state, including the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other political leaders, were quick to point out the flaws in the much-hyped road show, including the absence of popular participation in the campaign and misleading, incorrect statements by top BJP leaders.
The ruling CPI(M) also ‘invited’ Yogi Adithyanath, who was at the receiving end of nation-wide criticism for the death of several children due to poor public healthcare system in his state, to “visit Kerala Hospitals to learn how to run Hospitals effectively”. The abrupt withdrawal of BJP chief Amit Shah from the campaign further helped the critics. Pinarayi Vijayan said Amit Shah has become a ‘wet cracker’ in the state. The state BJP leaders counter these arguments and try to build their own narrative.
State’s top Congress leaders like Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala joined fellow Kerlites to condemn the state BJP’s divisive campaign with the help of national leadership. Oommen Chandy, a former chief minister and senior Congress man, said “any attempt to malign Kerala people will be collectively countered by the people”. He suggested that BJP has nothing constructive to offer to Kerala, a state “traditionally maintains a global standard in its ‘Human Development Index’”.
Oommen Chandy alleged that BJP was doing a malicious campaign against Kerala. “Attempts to malign Kerala, with upholding failed ‘Gujarat model’, are utterly ridiculous,” Chandy said.
He also recollected the outrage in Kerala after the infamous Kerala-Somalia comparison by prime minister Narendra Modi last year, when the former was Kerala chief minister.
Saying that “nation will not accept” the BJP chief Amit Shah’s efforts “to underrate the gains that Kerala has achieved”, the Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala opined Amit Shah’s participation in the campaign would yield no political result. Ramesh also criticized Pinarayi for making ‘extraordinary’ precautions for Shah’s visit. He accused the state government of ‘paralysing’ the public life for Amit Shah’s security. Pinarayi responded to Ramesh’s criticism, ensuring the latter that his government will “strongly deal with” any outsider who comes to the state to destroy its ‘secularism’ and ‘peace’.
The ‘Janaraksha Yatra’ invited criticism not just from the top politicians of the state. At many places, the ‘BJP Yatris’ could meet only hundreds of the members of the public – a reason that many pointed out as a reason for Amit Shah’s abrupt return to Delhi. Thousands of social media users also mocked the BJP’s flawed efforts to make inroads to Kerala politics without knowing the nuances of the state politics.
There is an unambiguous message for the Hindu nationalists in Kerala and their ‘powerful’ national leaders: divisive politics may attract some thousands in the state, but it will eventually strengthen the unity among the secular parties. The challenge the BJP would face most to make any significant electoral gain in Kerala will hence remain the state’s uncompromising collective loyalty to secular, inclusive politics.
BJP’s attitude towards Kerala for some time now is unfit for any democracy. It often targets the state for what it is. The party wants to gain a prominent political space in the state. But when those desperate efforts do not succeed, the party changes the tone, and its leaders make incorrect allegations against the entire state and everything the state is proud of – its secular credentials, education, healthcare, communal harmony, etc.
Unlike many other Indian states where BJP rules, the politics of fear and hatred will not help the party to emerge as an alternative in the electoral politics in the Kerala. And this is the fundamental truth the Hindu nationalists in the state often appear to forget to educate their masters in the north.