The BJP may have succeeded in running a loud, headline-grabbing election campaign in Kerala by raising the Sabarimala issue, but the results clearly do not match the party’s expectations.
Despite the party's attempt to consolidate and capture the Hindu vote by agitating against the Supreme Court's verdict allowing women of all age groups to enter the temple, the BJP has not managed to win a single seat the state and has failed to increase its vote share substantially. The party got 12.9 percent of the vote share, just two percent up from 10.8 percent in 2014 when there was a palpable Modi wave across the country. Only in one constituency did the BJP even manage to come second - in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram.
The BJP has polled a total of 26 lakh votes, while in 2014 they had polled 18.5 lakh votes. This spike is also because Kerala recorded almost 4% increased voter turnout this time.
As per the Election Commission Data, BJP has polled more than one lakh in 11 out of the 14 constituencies they contested in. In 5 of these constituencies, the BJP crossed 2 lakh votes, and despite that came third in all except Thiruvananthapuram. NDA allies BDJS and Kerala Congress polled more than 1 lakh in one constituency each.
Out of 20, NDA candidates managed to recover their deposits in only seven constituencies, including Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, and Thrissur, represented by Kummanam Rajasekaran, K Surendran, and Suresh Gopi respectively.
In Thiruvananthapuram, one of the constituencies which the BJP was hopeful of winning, the party candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan secured a total of 3,13,925 votes. However, he could not defeat Shashi Tharoor who secured 4,14,057 votes, thereby winning by a margin of more than a lakh votes.
Down south in the Pathanamthitta constituency, where the Sabarimala temple is located, BJP’s K Surendran secured a total of 2,95,627 votes. Surendran managed to only come third in the seat despite a huge increase in the party’s votes from the constituency. In 2014, prior to the Sabarimala controversy, BJP candidate MT Ramesh stood from Pathanamthitta and managed to secure the 3rd position with only 16 percent of the vote share or 1,38,954 votes.
The BJP that had earlier supported the entry of young women, suddenly seemed against the idea, calling it a violation of tradition and a disrespect to believers. They claimed that the Communist government was following the court order only because it had no regard for faith. Protest marches were taken out across the state, harthals declared. Leaders got arrested and several cases charged against them. Women who came to Sabarimala were sent back, many times violently. Many of them continued to be hounded even weeks after they entered or tried to enter the temple.
It had come as a blow to the party when the state’s chief electoral officer Teeka Ram Meena said that Sabarimala could not be used as a topic in campaigning. Not that it stopped the candidates and even Narendra Modi from directly or indirectly touching on the topic of faith. The Thrissur candidate, actor and Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi, got into trouble when the Collector, backed by the Election Commission, warned him against using the name of Lord Ayyappa for his campaign speeches.
The party did its best to paint the ruling Left government as anti-Hindu and had strongly hoped to open its account in Kerala, a state where it has never won a seat. While the UDF has swept the state and have perhaps reaped the benefits of the Sabarimala controversy, the vote transfer that the BJP expected has not happened.