Thiruvananthapuram: Anil Antony may not be a big catch for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala. But it could be the beginning of a process of reaching out to the youth and minorities for the electorally-stuck party in the southern state.
Symbolism of getting on board the son of a veteran Congress leader of A K Antony’s stature, of course, provides good optics. Having a fresh face groomed in an entirely different political ecosystem is not a mean gain. But Anil’s presence is not going to ramp up the electoral prospects of the party in Kerala immediately. All the same, he could be turned into an asset by the party to expand its support base beyond its traditional core.
The present state leadership, however, is demonstrably inept in converting advantages that come in its way into long-term political gains. This would call for active intervention of the Central functionaries in reconfiguring the party to position itself as a central player.
To start with, 37-year-old Anil Antony was never a popular face of the Congress. Suave, soft spoken and academically oriented, Anil Antony was hardly active in the student wing of the Congress, Kerala Students Union (KSU). Significantly, his father had cut his political teeth as a leader of the fledgling KSU in late 1950s. So is the case with all Congress leaders of Kerala since that turbulent period.
Anil, on the other hand, was straightway inducted into the party set-up very recently as head of the new media and IT-based communication cell of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC). Known for impeccable personal integrity, A K Antony had never leveraged his access to the party top brass to nurture his son’s political future.
Given his background and nature, Anil is not expected to go out in shining armour as a frontline soldier of the party he has newly joined. Instead, for the time being, he is likely to opt for a modest role attached to the central set-up rather than joining the state leadership.
Anil’s presence could help the BJP eventually both at the state and at the national level. The 2024 Lok Sabha elections are too early a target for the BJP in Kerala to pull off a miracle. Instead, the party should try to evolve a strategy for consistent growth setting goals beyond the contest just a year away.
The BJP got stuck in Kerala’s duopoly dominated by the coalitions led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) and the Congress primarily because of the state’s demographic features. In a state where the Muslim and Christian minorities together account for almost half the population, the BJP’s essentially Hindutva-based politics has severe limitations.
However, the recent inroads made by the party in the north-eastern states which have a large Christian presence has triggered a fresh enthusiasm. There are leaders who seriously think that if the confidence of the Christian community is won the party could expand to Kerala as well.
Sections of Christians have often sent signals that the community would not be averse to support the BJP, if that would suit its interests. Recently, similar sentiments were expressed by ArchBishop Joseph Pamplany of Thalassery ArchDiocese. He, however, clarified later that his statement was not an open political call and he had only sought the Centre’s intervention for a fair deal for the small-time farmers in his diocese hit hard by the falling natural rubber price.
The Left-leaning social media operators even coined the term ‘Chrisanghis’ to pillory the Christians warming up to the saffron camp.
But building on the idea of reaching out to various communities would require active engagement of the BJP’s central functionaries in the affairs of the state since the local leadership has miserably failed to convert opportunities into electoral gains.
On the flip side, Anil Antony’s tryst with the BJP has made the CPI(M) leaders elated.
They cite this as the latest of a series of instances of Congress leaders joining the BJP to secure power and pelf. Apparently, they have seized on this as a potent weapon to counter the possibility of a resurgent Congress repeating its thumping 2019 LS poll performance in the state in 2024 also. Keeping this theme alive, the Left leaders hope, would help detract large sections of minorities from voting for the Congress.