Sitharaman, Mohanlal on BJP wish list for Kerala contest
The Kerala BJP has recommended to the central leadership the names of defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Malayalam superstar Mohanlal as possible candidates for the Lok Sabha polls, desperate to open its account in the southern state.
The party’s Kerala unit president, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, told The Telegraph on Thursday that they were among the several names recommended to the BJP screening committee.
“We want to win two or three seats this time,” he said, asked about the logic of fielding Sitharaman who hails from Tamil Nadu and represents Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha.
Sources said the faction-riven BJP in Kerala hoped that Sitharaman could be the unifying factor.
Many in the BJP see Sitharaman as a “good bet” for the Thiruvananthapuram constituency for which the names of Pillai and state general secretary K. Surendran were also being apparently considered.
A BJP source said the party began seeing Sitharaman as an option after she visited Kerala after Cyclone Ockhi last April and interacted with the families of fishermen who drowned in the sea.
Mohanlal has yet to declare any political ambition, although his sympathy for the BJP is no secret.
“We have only suggested their names. It doesn’t mean they are contesting… (and) of course, if our headquarters gives the nod,” Pillai said.
One of the top two actors of Malayalam cinema, the other being Mammootty, Mohanlal has been enthralling the audience for four decades and is still one of the most bankable stars.
There is no clarity on whether Mohanlal, 58, would risk his reputation in the film industry by taking the political plunge.
Pillai, too, said the BJP was not sure whether the actor would agree to contest elections. “I don’t know if he will agree. But we have suggested his name,” Pillai said.
Mohanlal’s name had cropped up before he was last week honoured with the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in the country.
Another actor whose name has been included in the list of probables is BJP Rajya Sabha member Suresh Gopi. A one-time action hero who had a decent fan following, the party wants to pitch Gopi this time.
Currently held by two-time MP Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, the BJP wants to take a shot at Thiruvananthapuram considering possible anti-incumbency.
Although he beat the BJP’s O. Rajagopal in 2014, Tharoor’s margin had whittled down from 99,998 in 2009 to 14,501 in 2014.
“We have a good chance if the Congress fields Tharoor for the third time,” said the BJP functionary who did not want to be named.
The Sabarimala agitation spearheaded by the BJP was initially seen as a booster shot to its electoral opportunities in Kerala. The party and its Sangh parivar allies had begun protests soon after the Left government decided to implement the September 28 Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the temple.
But by Pillai’s own admission, it was not a great success. While winding up a sit-in at state capital Thiruvananthapuram, Pillai recently said the BJP had “not been entirely successful” in its “fight to protect the devotees’ faith”. This was in contrast with his own description of the Sabarimala issue as a “golden opportunity” for the party.
Kerala had always shunned the BJP until veteran leader Rajagopal beat V. Sivankutty of the CPM by a slender margin of 8,671 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections.