“We won’t lose the votes we polled last time. Our expectation is that we will gain more votes,” said BJP’s K Surendran, the party’s state General Secretary and candidate in Konni Assembly bye-polls, soon after the voting came to an end. However, as the bye-poll results trickled in, it was clear that the man who had led the BJP’s shrill campaign against women entering Sabarimala last year, was not poised to win; in fact, he could not even gather the votes he got just a few months ago during the Lok Sabha elections from this Assembly segment.
It was LDF’s Janeesh Kumar who emerged victorious from Konni in Pathanamthitta district with 54,099 votes. While UDF candidate P Mohanraj came second with 44,146 votes, Surendran could only poll 39,786 votes and came in third.
If one compares the BJP’s performance this time with the 2016 Assembly polls, then the party has done much better as their candidate Ashok Kumar managed to get only 16,730 votes in 2016. However, compared to the Parliamentary polls earlier this year, the party has lost ground in this Assembly segment.
The BJP had never managed to secure more than 5% votes in Konni, and the first time they breached the 10% mark was in 2016, when Ashok Kumar managed to win 11.6% votes.
However, the socio-political scene in Kerala has changed in the last two years and Pathanamthitta, where the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple is located, was the epicentre of the entire controversy over entry of women of all ages into the temple. The BJP’s decision to make K Surendran contest from Pathanamthitta in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year made it clear that the party believed the seat was within their grasp. While Surendran has a higher stature within the party, he is an outsider unlike Ashok Kumar.
However, despite being the face of the Sabarimala protest, Surendran could only come third in the Lok Sabha polls. He did manage to fare decently in three of the seven assembly segments in the constituency – Konni, Adoor and Aranmula.
But fast forward a few months, and Surendran seems to have lost the ground he gained. While he secured 46,506 votes from the Konni Assembly segment of Pathanamthitta Parliamentary constituency just months back, in the bye-poll now, he managed to secure just 39,786 votes. Wooing Orthodox Christians and upper caste Hindus doesn't seem to have worked for the BJP candidate.
The Konni constituency has been a UDF bastion – or rather an Adoor Prakash bastion – with the Congress leader winning from the seat for 23 years. Even as the LDF celebrates its historic victory, it would be time for introspection for the BJP. While Surendran has joined a list of BJP leaders who have a record of losing in consecutive elections, the party has failed in its agenda of ‘unifying the Hindu vote’ by trying to create a tense and hateful atmosphere in the name of Sabarimala. Moreover, Vellapally Natesan and Sukumaran Nair's decision to maintain distance from the BJP has also worked against the party.
Surendran, a resident of Kozhikode district, first contested the Lok Sabha elections from Kasaragod in 2009. Though he couldn't win the polls, it was one of the BJP's best performances compared to previous years, as he secured 1,25,482 votes.
Later in 2011, he contested the Assembly elections from Manjeswaram constituency of Kasaragod, and secured second position with 43,989 votes. Indian Union of Muslim League's (IUML) PB Abdul razak had won with a lead of 5,828 votes then.
Later in 2014, he once again contested from Kasaragod Lok Sabha seat, and lost once again. He managed to poll just 1,72,826 votes while CPI(M)'s P Karunakaran won with 3,84,964 votes.
The 2016 Assembly election result was controversial as Surendran lost Manjeswaram by just 89 votes. While he secured 56,781 votes, IUML's Abdul Razak got 56,870 votes. Surendran dragged the IUML to court accusing them of casting bogus votes, that led to their victory. In his plea he had alleged that votes had been cast even for dead persons. But later, some of the voters who Surendran had claimed were 'dead' appeared before the HC stating that they had cast their votes legally. Surendran took back the petition following the announcement of Lok Sabha polls in 2019.