In a Left wave that swept across almost all districts in Kerala, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Government (LDF) not only devastated the Congress-led UDF but also delivered a stunning blow to the BJP as it failed to win a single seat despite sending in high-profile candidates like Metro Man E. Sreedharan into the fray.
The BJP was never a force to reckon with in a state that alternates between the UDF and LDF mostly, but this time the party aspired to win at least five seats.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the BJP won Nemom (O. Rajagopal won) by 8,671 votes, pushing the LDF to second place and the UDF to a distant third. The saffron party was a runner-up in seven constituencies — Manjeswaram, Kasaragod, Palakkad, Malampuzha, Chathannoor, Vattiyoorkkavu and Kazhakkottam. The party’s vote share had risen to 14.93 per cent.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the vote share went up to 16 per cent and later in the 2021 local body polls, it shot up to 17 per cent. The buzz about it steady rise was growing, or so the BJP thought.
As campaigning picked up, the BJP declared that “the party would capture power in Kerala if it would win even 35 seats” — a tall order. The May 2 results came as a horror to the party and its followers — it drew a blank, though it led intermittently in four constituencies — Palakkad, Nemom, Thrissur and Chathannoor — during counting.
The biggest upset was E Sreedharan’s loss by 3,859 votes to Shafi Parambil of UDF in Palakkad. At one stage Sreedharan Sreedharan had increased the lead to over 5,000. Likewise, the party’s state chief, K Surendran, lost in both constituencies (Manjeswaram and Konni) he contested. In Konni, located in the Pathanamthitta district where the Sabarimala shrine is located, Surendran slipped to third place, causing huge embarrassment to the party. In Manjeswaram, Surendran lost by a slender margin of 745 votes; his loss in 2016 was by only 89 votes.
In the highly volatile contest in Kazhakoottam, BJP’s firebrand leader Shobha Surendran, too, bit the dust, though she had created an unprecedented buzz over the Sabarimala issue. In Thrissur, film star-turned-politician Suresh Gopi flickered briefly only to concede defeat later. Again for all the hype and bravado, the Rajya Sabha MP created in Thrissur, he slipped to third place.
However, the BJP came second in at least nine constituencies — Manjeswaram, Kasaragod, Palakkad, Malampuzha, Chathannoor, Attingal, Kazhakoottam, Nemom, and Vattiyoorkkavu.
So, what went wrong? A person who worked closely with the BJP’s election team acknowledged the party’s deep disappointment. “Frankly, no one imagined such a rout. We were very optimistic about wresting at least three seats (Thiruvananthapuram, Nemom, and Palakkad). In Nemom, we were overconfident and the party did not even campaign aggressively, for which we paid the price,” he said.
“We all knew Surendran had no chance in Konni, but again Manjeswaram was too close to call. I think there was a clear minority consolidation against the BJP in many places, which is just one of the reasons. There are other organizational follies too which I cannot tell you now. Everything will be out soon,” said the BJP source.
K Surendran told media, “There has been a clear communal consolidation in Nemom, Palakkad, and Manjeswaram. We will sit together and dissect the loss.”
This was perhaps BJP’s best chance to push the envelope further and break the state’s bipolar political narrative. Clearly, there would be demands for K. Surendran’s scalp.