The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP plays caste card to steal march on Marxists

New Delhi, July 27: Bonhomie between the BJP and a pressure group of the backward Ezhavas, who have been traditional CPM supporters in Kerala, is a cause of concern for the Marxists.

The pressure group, Kerala Progressive Front, was floated last month by Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalanasangham (SNDP), founded by Ezhava icon Sree Narayana Guru.

In the past three months, there have been increasing contacts between the BJP brass and SNDP general secretary Vellappally Nateshan. The BJP, which is yet to have an MLA in Kerala, is wooing the SNDP in the hope of an alliance before the next elections. The Ezhavas constitute roughly 25 per cent of the electorate in the state.

The BJP’s long-term plan is to weaken the communists in Kerala, polarise the voters and fill the vacuum when the time is ripe. The polity has been divided along religious lines with strong Muslim and Christian presence in the state. The Hindus constitute 52 per cent of Kerala’s population and 30 per cent of them are backwards. The front is the first backward caste political body in a state with 25 per cent Christians, 20 per cent Muslims and 3 per cent from other religions.

The upper caste Nairs have a social outfit, the Nair Service Society (NSS), which is a traditional Congress supporter. The NSS, which is in favour of economic criteria for reservation, had recently announced that except on the demand for Other Backward Class reservation, it could work jointly with the SNDP. If traditional adversaries, the NSS and SNDP, join hands, it could emerge as a strong counterfoil to the Christian/Muslim parties — a scenario that could adversely affect the Congress (backed by the NSS) and the CPM.

As part of the wooing game

• In May, at Nateshan’s behest, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani unveiled the statue of backward caste leader and influential former editor K. Sukumaran

• The same month, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi inaugurated SNDP’s global convention at Kochi

• Joshi announced the setting up of a university in the name of Narayana Guru and said his teachings would be included in the National Council of Educational Research and Training syllabus

• The SNDP leader got an assurance from social empowerment minister Satyanarain Jatiya that a Rs 570-crore loan for the backward castes under the micro-financing system of the state government would be released. Advani had made a special request to Jatiya to help the SNDP

• A few days ago, Joshi acceded to Nateshan’s request to allow SNDP to open 65 vocational and higher secondary schools (fully aided by the Centre).

Though the SNDP has been a CPM supporter, in the run-up to the last Assembly elections, it turned against the Marxists and backed the Congress-led United Democratic Front at several places in north Kerala.

The Left Front was humbled in the polls. Where the CPM candidates won, the margin, which used to be about 18,000 votes in the Malabar region, was reduced to 3,000 to 4,000 votes. The disenchantment of the Ezhava community was largely held responsible for the slide.

Analysts, however, are of the view that though the BJP has established a rapport with the SNDP leadership, it would not be easy for the Ezhavas, fed on Marxist ideology for decades, to embrace the saffron party all of a sudden.

That is the reason the SNDP has floated the Kerala Progressive Front, which Nateshan said was not a political party but a pressure group. A section of the analysts is also of the view that Nateshan, a contractor, wants the BJP to bail him out of some legal tangles.

The communal carnage at Marad in Kozhikode district and chief minister A.K. Antony’s comments that the minority communities were applying undue pressure to get what they wanted at the cost of the majority community and that money from the Gulf (of Muslims) had widened the rich-poor gap to dangerous proportions, have spurred a flux.

The powerful Indian Union of Muslim League (IUML), which is part of Antony’s UDF government, reacted sharply but the SNDP and the NSS welcomed the comments.

Nateshan urged Antony not to withdraw his statement. He also endeared himself to the saffron camp when he criticised fundamentalist Muslim organisations for the Marad violence. Even the BJP failed to match Nateshan’s rhetoric when he described the incident as “Hindu genocide”.

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