Veteran BJP leader O Rajagopal terms the upcoming state Assembly elections on May 16 a decisive one in Kerala’s political history. At 86, he is all set to contest the elections one last time from the Nemom constituency in Thiruvananthapuram.
Unless the leader of the Opposition and CPI(M) veteran VS Achuthanandan too decides to stand for elections at the ripe old age of 92, Rajagopal will most probably have the honour of being the oldest candidate in the electoral fray this time.
Speaking to The News Minute, Rajagopal elaborates: “It is for the first time in half a century that Keralites actually have an option to vote for a viable third alternative with the BJP-BDJS combination now in place as part of the NDA’s electoral tie-up.”
When asked whether such a tie-up was aimed at a consolidated Hindu vote swinging in their favour, Rajagopal insists that it was not just the Hindu vote that they are targeting.
He however adds: “The harassed Hindus in Kerala are fed up with the over-appeasement of the minorities by both the UDF and the Left front in the state. Naturally this would translate into votes for the BJP.”
Even as the BJP and the Bharat Dharma Jana Seva (BDJS) party floated by the Sree Narayana Guru Paripalana (SNDP) general secretary Vellappally Natesan have to thrash out the electoral seat-sharing details amidst reported aggressive posturing by the latter, Rajagopal believes it will not at all prove to be a divisive issue and will be sorted out amicably at the end.
To the query ‘whether Vellappaly or his son contesting the election could adversely affect the party’s chances to finally open its account in the state owing to scores of alleged corruption cases against the duo’, Rajagopal is quick to retort: “That’s stale news. And when compared to the corruption charges that are faced by the UDF and LDF leaders, who would point fingers at Vellappally?”
When asked why he opted to stand for elections even at such an old age, the veteran leader said it was purely due to ‘party’ pressure. He says he was all for making way for the younger generation of leaders to lead the way in this election but the party leadership insisted on his candidature, as they firmly believe that his presence would help in consolidating a high number of votes in favour of the BJP.
Rajagopal has held many prestigious Union portfolios like Defence and Parliamentary Affairs, Urban Development, Law, Justice and Company Affairs, and Railways in the previous NDA regime at the Centre. He has also been a Rajya Sabha MP from 1992-2004.
Here’s a quick look at his past electoral frays in Kerala:
-1989 Lok Sabha elections from Manjeri; lost
-1991 Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram; lost
-1999 Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram; lost
-2004 Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram; lost
- 2011 Assembly elections from Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram; lost
- 2012 Neyyattinkara by-election; lost
-2014 Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram; lost
-2015 Aruvikkara by-election; lost
Even though the veteran leader was unable to win even once in Kerala, Rajagopal is widely credited for single-handedly increasing the BJP’s percentage of vote-share in the state’s highly bi-partisan political scenario from a mere six percent in 2011 to 32.3% in 2014.
And the Aruvikkara by-election also saw the votes cast in the BJP’s favour increase from 7694 to a whopping 34145 only due to Rajagopal’s charisma and personal connect with the voters.
And despite his successive electoral defeats in the state, Rajagopal himself sounds very optimistic about the lotus finally being able to flower in Kerala’s political spectrum in the coming Assembly elections.
The BJP state leadership has however been unusually mum in reacting to the JNU or the Rohith Vemula incident. On being asked whether such defensive posturing was due to fear of a negative backlash in a state where leftist politics have many takers among the student community and the youth, Rajagopal chose to play it safe.
“Well, we needed time to assess the situation. That the JNU issue was deliberately orchestrated by the Leftist and Congress lobbies is very evident. In Kerala, the incident also did not have any major repercussions, so the need to react to it did not arise.”
There were also reports about Union HRD Minister Smrithi Irani’s plans to visit the dalit girl student of RLV College in Tripunithura in Ernakulam who had recently allegedly attempted suicide after reported harassment by some student activists.
In the light of the Rohith Vemula incident, TNM wanted to know whether the BJP’s stance in posing as a saviour of the dalits in Kerala may actually backfire, Rajagopal said he preferred not to view it through the Vemula prism.
“I prefer to see it as a matter of standing up for the rights of the downtrodden. The Left especially in Kerala has always had a dismal record of oppressing the dalits of the state through violence. All the BJP wants to do is educate the people to see through the double standards of such Leftist ideology,” he affirms.