By Sanu George
For BJP President Amit Shah, who has set his eyes on winning Kerala, the first test will come when a bye-election to the Chengannur Assembly constituency is held in the not-too-distant future.
After spreading the party's tentacles with a resounding victory in the northeast, Shah has set the organisation on the road to securing power in Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal, saying the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) "golden period" will come only when it has won these states.
And for Shah, the first test in Kerala of achieving what currently appears to be a "distant dream" could be the soon-to-be-announced Chengannur Assembly bye-election following the sudden demise of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) legislator KK Ramachandran Nair in January.
While the BJP ruling Kerala looks almost an impossibility in the present scheme of things, the saying that "politics is the art of the possible" could well be the motivating factor for Shah and his think tank.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP contested 18 out of the 20 parliamentary seats in the state and secured 10.33 per cent of the votes. And it was only in the 2016 Assembly elections that the "Lotus" (the party symbol) bloomed for the first time in the state when party veteran O Rajagopal won the Nemom assembly seat in the state capital.
In the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP and its allies contested all 140 seats in the state and secured 15.2 per cent votes. The BJP itself contested 98 seats and received 10.6 per cent of the votes.
The BJP had an alliance with the fledgling Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), the political arm of the SNDP, an organisation that works predominantly for the backward Ezhavas. The debutant party secured 4.47 per cent votes in the state, contesting 36 seats in alliance with BJP.
Apart from the BDJS, the other BJP allies in the state were the Kerala Congress (Thomas), the Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha and the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi (Rajan Babu).
Chengannur has traditionally been a safe seat for the Congress, and the constituency has, for close to three decades, been won by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
But in the 2016 Assembly polls, Congress candidate PC Vishnunath, seeking a hat-trick of wins from the seat, had to bite the dust. One reason attributed for his defeat was the giant strides made by the BJP candidate, P Sreedharan Pillai, a former state BJP president, who secured 42,682 votes.
The CPI (M)'s Nair won the 2016 election with 52,880 votes and Vishnunath came second with 44,987 votes.
Even though the dates are yet to be announced for the upcoming bye-election, it is certainly going to be one of the most keenly-contested electoral contests in the history of the state.
More importantly, for the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Pinarayi Vijayan, it will be an opportunity to test whether there is any anti-incumbency feeling against it, though it has been in power for just 21 months.
For the Congress, which received a drubbing in the 2016 polls, the contest will reveal whether it is on the path of recovery before next year's Lok Sabha elections. For the BJP, a victory in Chengannur will give a much-needed boost to Shah's dream of ruling Kerala in the not-too-distant future.
In the bi-polar politics of Kerala, the CPI (M)-led Left Front polled over 43 per cent votes in the 2016 Assembly elections, while the Congress-led UDF polled over 38 per cent votes.
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)