New Delhi: Amid the BJP’s campaign to induct high-profile names in Kerala, two former Kerala High Court judges have joined the party, ahead of the assembly elections in the state. This comes days after ‘Metro man’ E. Sreedharan joined the BJP.
Justices P.N. Ravindran and V. Chitambaresh — both of whom made headlines with controversial comments in the last couple of years — joined the BJP Sunday during the party’s ‘Vijaya Yathra’ at Thripunithura in Kochi. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman welcomed the duo in the party even as Chitambaresh was missing at the event.
Ravindran, who served as a Kerala HC judge from 2007 to 2018, had at the time of his retirement spoken against those who “vilify” the high court, calling them publicity seekers. His comment was seemingly aimed at one of his colleagues, Justice B. Kemal Pasha, who had alleged nepotism in appointment of judges, and spoke against post-retirement jobs.
Last month, Pasha expressed his desire to fight on a Congress-led United Democratic Front ticket from Ernakulum.
Both Ravindran and Chitambaresh also caused a flutter in January when they signed a letter to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in support of UP’s controversial new anti-conversion law.
Chitambaresh, who retired in 2019, also caused a row when he called on the Brahmin community to agitate for economic reservation, rather than caste reservation. Speaking at the Tamil Brahmin’s Global Meet in July 2019, he said the Brahmins, who are twice-born, are not vocal in seeking reservation.
Nationalism, ‘love jihad’
Speaking to ThePrint about his entry in the BJP, ex-judge V. Chitambaresh said he was a fellow traveller of the party since his student days, when he was with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
“The BJP has worked towards many nationalist causes, which is the need of the hour. That is why I joined the BJP… to serve the nation after retirement. There is no conflict of interest,” he said.
He also added that he wants to alleviate the stigma of communal politics attached to the party. “I have raised the issue of appointment of judges in Kerala High Court on the basis of merit but not community or religion. I will raise these issue continuously,” he said.
On his entry, Justice P.N. Ravindran said, “There are a lot of ‘love jihad’ cases from both Hindu and Christian communities. There is also a lot of corruption in the Pinarayi Vijayan government and their stand on Sabarimala is also against the Hindu sentiments. This is why I have joined the BJP.”
He added that he won’t contest elections but will campaign for the party.
BJP’s push for known faces
The Kerala unit of the BJP is in talks with several other known faces to join the party as it looks to shape popular opinion in the state before the single-phase assembly elections on 6 April.
On Sunday, former Kerala director general of police Venugopal K. Nair and retired Rear Admiral B.R. Menon also joined the BJP, apart from the two judges.
BJP leaders have also held talks with Malayalam actors Anusree, Unni Mukundan and Mallika Sukumaran, with the latter in the final stages of discussion, according to sources.
BJP state president K. Surendran told ThePrint, “We are reaching out to several celebrities because the party wants to expand its footprint and people listen to prominent people’s voices easily. It is not necessary that they will fight the election, but will make a contribution to make an opinion about the party.”
A senior state unit leader who didn’t wish to be named said sometimes in highly polarised two-party politics, people don’t listen to third political party’s leaders.
“But if the same point is made by a celebrity, people’s opinions get influenced. If we talk of ‘love jihad’, people think we are raising this issue due to the election. But when neutral legends make this point, people listen,” said the BJP leader.
The party has lined up top national leaders for its two-week Vijaya Yathra, which started on 21 February. UP CM Yogi Adityanath made the ‘love jihad’ pitch on the first day.
The party has planned 14 rallies and 80 meetings during the yatra. Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani and V.K. Singh, and leaders like Tejaswi Surya and Meenakshi Lekhi have also been called in to participate. Home Minister Amit Shah will address the concluding rally in Trivandrum on 7 March.
BJP’s position in Kerala
In the last assembly election in the state in 2016, the BJP won one seat — O. Rajagopal, a senior leader — in the 140-member assembly. It was the first time the party had won an assembly seat in the state.
Its vote share rose from 14.96 per cent in the 2016 assembly polls to 17 per cent in local body polls in January this year.
The BJP is making an effort to attract the 17 per cent Christian population and the party’s ex-state chief and former Mizoram governor, K. Rajasekharan, has been deputed to try to consolidate the Christian votes.
He arranged three meetings of Kerala Christian leaders with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, where they sought a solution to many of the issues the Christian community faces in Kerala — from love jihad to reduction in allocation for church.
Earlier this year, Modi set a target of winning 70 assembly constituencies, while addressing Kerala BJP members.
However, BJP leaders told ThePrint that their first target is to concentrate on 20-25 A-category seats, where the party received 35,000 to 40,000 votes last time. “But the BJP strategy to attract prominent people to fight is to get traction in polarised politics between the Left front and Congress-led front,” said the leader quoted above.
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