For a political juggernaut aiming to breach the last bastion, the BJP has repeatedly found Kerala to be an enigma. Hindus account for 54.73 per cent of the population, while Muslims (26.56 per cent) and Christians (18.38 per cent) combined make the ‘significant other.’

Findings of an All-India Post-poll NES 2019-Survey in 2019 by CSDS-Lokniti had spelt out in some detail the challenge at hand. As much as 50.4 per cent of the Christian respondents viewed the rise of the BJP as ‘bad’ for the state; only 3.1 per cent said it is ‘good’. For 11.9 per cent, its rise ‘would not make difference.’ Separately, 37.2 per cent of the respondents said they did not ‘like the party at all’ while 10.2 per cent ‘liked it a lot’; 25.1 per cent liked it ‘somewhat’; and 18.2 per cent liked it ‘very little.’

Changing preferences

The Sabarimala agitation had helped it to raise vote share substantially in 2019 and end up a close second in seven assembly segments. But State Assembly elections in 2021 saw it forfeit the only seat it had won with great fanfare in 2016. Political parties know only too well voters change political preferences in Kerala depending on the unfolding social reality. Except for the extremely poor, all other socio-economic groups, including dalits, OBCs, the lower classes and the younger generation, are highly volatile.

Christians enjoy better economic clout and social heft than in Goa or the North-East, as evident in an array of imposing churches, schools, hospitals, skilling centres and other infrastructure standing tall along the main roads. The community can potentially tilt scales in at least 13 out of the 20 seats. But the BJP queered the pitch this time by leaving only one seat to it. That this seat happens to be Pathanamthitta, fulcrum of the Sabarimala agitation, is purely coincidental.

Waxing and waning

Outside of Central Kerala, where they are numerically strong, Christians are present in fewer numbers in the hill districts. Bishops of Thalassery and Wayanad in the North have waxed and waned in their disposition towards governments at the State and the Centre. While one famously promised to win a seat for the BJP if interests of rubber farmers are taken care of, the other took up cudgels on behalf of those suffering from man-animal conflicts.

The unspoken rule is a candidate must win a threshold 30-32 per cent share in Assembly elections and 35-40 per cent in Lok Sabha elections to make the cut. The best the BJP has managed so far is in Thiruvananthapuram where it garnered 32.4 per cent in 2014 and 31.4 per cent in 2019. In ‘A’ class Pathanamthitta, the party has fielded this time a novice: Anil Antony, son of senior Congress leader AK Antony, against sitting UDF MP Anto Antony.

Hindu votes may split

In the absence of persuasive campaign issues, analysts feel core Hindu votes may get split to benefit the Congress-led United Democratic Front’s (UDF) under the watch of Rahul Gandhi (Wayanad). The crucial question is whether the BJP can break the ‘bipolarity jinx’ with help from fringe groups of committed Christian voters, aptly dubbed ‘Chryssanghis.’

Joseph John, senior journalist, said from Kottayam that the ‘love jihad’ polemic was flogged to death by the clergy and the interested laity. Rival political parties had gleefully joined in to serve own interests, pitting one community against the other.

Time for tough choices

There is a realisation among sections of the community that a Modi-led dispensation at the Centre is a foregone conclusion in 2024. A retired professor in Thiruvananthapuram said there is no charm to be marked out as a perennial fence-sitter only to find oneself at the wrong end of the stick every time. It is time to make tough choices.

There is no sign yet any mass mobilisation will unfold with the clergy remaining outwardly indifferent citing Manipur and ‘minority insecurity.’ Locally, analysts are keenly watching the grant scheme of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) to win over the ‘powerless’ Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), rival UDF’s very raison d’etre. UDF’s loss will be an indirect gain for the BJP, but these are early days yet.