From the southern constituency of Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram where BJP won its first Assembly seat in Kerala, to Manjeshwar, the northern most tip of Kerala, just along the Kerala-Karnataka border, the saffron party has been pinning its hopes to win at least three seats in the forthcoming Assembly election.
With Kummanam Rajasekharan being BJP’s Nemom candidate, the constituency is sliding out of BJP’s reach. In Manjeshwar, BJP’s candidate is its state president K Surendran, who is working to consolidate the Hindu votes to ensure a win. In Pathanamthitta’s Konni Assembly constituency, where again Surendran is contesting, BJP is likely to be placed third.
In Manjeshwar, UDF’s candidate AKM Ashraf is keen to win the seat and retain the IUML stronghold in the constituency, while LDF’s VV Rameshan hopes he can turn the constituency red. However, LDF is likely to be placed third, with the contest tightening between Ashraf and Surendran.
In Manjeshwar, BJP has realised that it is likely to lose if the consolidation of Muslim votes happens. In order to prevent this, BJP has been undertaking a mostly silent campaign in this northern most district. The BJP workers, who are mostly RSS members and are from Mangalore, have been visiting Hindu homes exhorting them to vote for K Surendran. Top BJP leaders from Karnataka have also been quietly flocking to the district, while Surendran has been attempting to woo the Muslims by attending prayers in mosques.
The BJP campaign here is unlike other constituencies where loudspeakers and vehicles have been employed to campaign. In Manjeshwar, BJP-supporting vehicles are far and few, but it is easy to spot door-to-door campaigning by BJP and RSS supporters.
BJP has 35% Hindu vote bank in the district, but there are also Konkani speaking Christians, and 62% Muslims in the constituency, making it susceptible to communal polarisation. That BJP wants to win in a Muslim-majority constituency is in itself an anomaly.
In this constituency there are Muslims who are staunch CPI(M) supporters too, whose votes are required if the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) candidate AKM Ashraf has to win with a considerable majority.
In 2016, Surendran lost by 89 votes to PB Abdul Razak, but Razak’s death in 2018 necessitated a by-election which IUML leader MC Razzak won by 7,923 votes defeating BJP’s Raveesh Thanthri Kuntar.
According to reports, Razak won by 89 votes because of the rift between the two Muslims factions of late EK Aboobacker Musaliar and AP Aboobacker Musaliar. Of this, the EK faction has traditionally supported IUML and UDF, while the splinter AP faction has supported LDF.
Ashraf, who grew up in Manjeshwar, has promised improvement of medical facilities and Kannada speaking officials in government offices. To woo the Kannada and Tulu speaking minorities, he has been underscoring his fluency in Malayalam, Tulu and Kannada. He is in fact a graduate in Kannada literature.
What is also working in Ashraf’s favour is that for the first time in years, Manjeshwar has a local multi-lingual candidate in him. Surendran is from Kozhikode while Rameshan is from the neighbouring Kanhangad.
Closure of border roads by the BJP government in Karnataka during Covid-19 is working against the BJP, though WhatsApp messages are being circulated promising that if Surendran is elected, he would be able to negotiate with the BJP-led government in Karnataka. The border restrictions are still relevant as Karnataka has imposed fresh restrictions. Due to lack of proper medical facilities in Kasargode, people depend on hospitals in Mangaluru for treatment.
Hindus in Meenja have expressed their support for Surendran, but LDF-supporting Hindus continue to support CP(M) candidate VV Rameshan. Several Muslims have become aware of the silent campaigning by BJP, which has begun to consolidate the Muslim votes. A drive through Manjeshwar, Kumbla and Uppala in the constituency will see most Muslims vouching for Ashraf. Once all of them decide to vote for the local Ashraf, Surendran stands no chance.
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