Thiruvananthapuram, May 31: Robert Bruce tried, tried and tried again. . Rajagopal tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried and is still trying.
Do not take the trouble of counting. The BJP veteran has contested polls 12 times, has not won even once and is now fighting the 13th election of his life.
Do not make the mistake of dismissing the 82-year-old affable gentleman as some kind of election junkie who contests just for the fun of it. He is the tallest BJP leader in Kerala, one of the few states where the party has not been able to win a single seat in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, and a former junior minister for railways in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
This Saturday’s election to the Assembly in one of the southernmost corners of the country would normally have attracted little attention outside Kerala. But the contest in Neyyattinkara, less than 18km from the capital Thiruvananthapuram, is being seen as the most important election the CPM — the principal political force other than the Congress in the state — has fought for decades.
Much was already at stake for the CPM as its sitting MLA and veteran communist, R. Selvaraj, committed the sacrilege of sacrileges by crossing over to the Congress-led ruling front which promptly fielded him to fill the vacancy created by his own switch. Then came the chilling murder of a CPM rebel in north Kerala, making the election a referendum on the rift-riven Left party’s style of functioning.
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Neyyattinkara has a considerable number of upper-caste Nairs, some of who have traditionally supported the BJP, and Nadar-Christians —those who converted from the Nadar community — to which belong Selvaraj and his CPM rival F. Lawrence.
Into this cauldron has stepped in Rajagopal to fight his 13th election.
Asked if he was inspired by Bruce, the Scottish king, Rajagopal smiled and said: “Oh no. I’ve read Robert Bruce but it was not he who inspired me. In fact it was Deendayalji (Jan Sangh founder Deendayal Upadhyay), whom I had the opportunity to be associated with for a short time that influenced me.”
Fighting elections, Rajagopal recounts, was part of Upadhyay’s strategy to broaden the party’s base. “The party’s flag or name was unknown in the south of the country then. He felt that if we put up candidates, at least there would be discussions about them and in turn help the party.”
The one-time lawyer says he has lost count of the number of times he has fought elections but his colleagues believe if he does manage to win this time, it would be 13th-time lucky for the veteran in Kerala. “I have lost count,” said Rajagopal. “Whenever the party wants (me to contest), I do.” There’s no giving up when life is dedicated to a mission.”
BJP-watchers say it would be the 13th straight contest for the octogenarian leader whose electoral debut was in 1965 as a Jan Sangh candidate in the municipal elections in home district Palakkad.
Rajagopal has taken his party close to victory, south or north. The last time was a year back in the Assembly polls when he finished second behind the CPM candidate. He was 6,715 votes behind the winner.
But his political rivals have a theory. “It seems the BJP has no one else to show up as a leader in Kerala even after so many years. Whether Lok Sabha or the Assembly, they have only Rajagopal to fight,” taunted Bindu Krishna, a Congress leader.
Voting for Rajagopal would be like watering an electric post, said CPM leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, implying that it would be a wasted effort.
BJP state president V. Muraleedharan shrugged off such talk, saying: “He is our shining star. That he has not been able to come first on earlier occasions should not be seen as his disqualification. It’s due to the political situation. The Left and the Congress are part of coalitions while the BJP fights on its own.”
Rajagopal’s CV includes a 12-year-stint in the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh. During the second term, he was minister of state for railways and parliamentary affairs in the Vajpayee government.
Even rivals acknowledge his contribution as junior railway minister. Senior Congress leader and Kerala power minister Aryadan Mohammed had said the state witnessed development in the railway sector under Rajagopal.
What does Rajagopal’s family think of his successive poll defeats? Rajagopal’s son Shyamaprasad, a celebrated filmmaker who has made a name for himself by adapting literary works (his latest film is based on a Bengali short story), said he didn’t want to measure his father’s success in terms of a win or loss. “He sacrificed his professional career to join a party which had no future in Kerala then. But he was fighting for the cause he believed in.”
Asked why he did not take to politics, Shyamaprasad said: “Politicians have answers for everything. But an artist is ambiguous and strives to maintain it in his works. So, a good artist can never be a politician.”