After poor election performance, poll finance scandal. It will take more than a committee report to undo damage to Kerala BJP.
The assembly election results in Kerala were a rude shock to the BJP as it failed to retain the lone seat it had in the legislative assembly and its vote share fell dramatically. Soon after, reports started to trickle in about pre-poll cash deals that state leaders had allegedly made with rivals and allies — including a highway robbery in central Kerala involving Rs 3.5 crore, in which investigations have pointed to the possible involvement of BJP leaders. The party’s central leadership has now asked a three-member team, comprising former Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan, an ex-IPS officer and a retired IAS officer to report on the distribution and use of election funds by state BJP leaders.
With allegations and counter-allegations made by factional leaders, the episode has raised serious questions about the party’s election finances and its modes of coalition-building. Senior BJP and RSS leaders are now being questioned by the state police about the cash that was allegedly stolen from a vehicle three days before polling. The source of cash is being investigated and also the robbery claim. The BJP, a distant third factor in Kerala’s electoral politics, had run an expensive and extravagant campaign in the state, outspending the ruling LDF and the UDF in many constituencies. Post election, many BJP candidates have alleged that the promised campaign resources never reached them. The Kerala BJP has been a divided house for a long time. But this time, faction leaders have been unusually active, darkening the cloud over the credibility of the current leadership.
The present scandal could even be seen as an unsurprising outcome of the BJP’s electoral strategy in the state, wherein the party sought to use lavish campaign spectacles to compensate for the lack of an agenda that could connect with the people. If the BJP’s vote share in Kerala has fallen from 14.46 per cent in 2016 to 11.30 per cent in 2021, the responsibility would appear to lie not just with the party’s state leadership but also with the programmes it has championed in Kerala, apart from its governance record at the Centre. Kerala’s demography and political legacy tend to make it less than hospitable to hardline Hindutva agendas. The party’s attempt to build a counter social coalition to the LDF and UDF by patronising caste and community leaders and groups who have been in the margins also failed to take off. The Sreedharan committee may help the BJP to get to the truth of the alleged siphoning of funds, but it will take much more to repair the party’s image.
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