Suresh Gopi talks to the media after his election win on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Image Credit: X/ANI

Thiruvananthapuram: If there was one bastion that the BJP desperately desired to breach this general election, it was Kerala, a hard nut to crack for the party – hard as a coconut. The party finally de-husked that long-standing political obstacle on Tuesday and got its first Member of Parliament from Kerala, from Thrissur.

How hard-won and significant that victory was, was evident from political discussions on the streets to television studios centred around that single seat, even as the Congress-led United Democratic Front picked up 18 seats, decimating the ruling Left Democratic Front that ended up with a single seat – at Alathur – to save its blushes.

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The UDF’s near-sweep with 18 of Kerala’s 20 seats and the LDF nearly falling off the radar should have ruled the headlines, but the single seat that BJP won dominated the political narrative. For good reason, too. The BJP-Left equation in Kerala has always been a David and Goliath-like political analogy, and few expected that a day would dawn when they both would end up on par – with one seat each in Kerala.

As it turned out, it took a film star, Suresh Gopi, to script a dream finish for the BJP in Thrissur for a victory that even some of BJP’s supporters would not have placed a bet on. On the eve of counting, Gopi’s opponent K. Muraleedharan of the Congress had said, “What the BJP would get is a shape of a hen’s egg”. On Tuesday, Muraleedharan was the one eating humble pie, ending up third, behind LDF’s V.S. Sunilkumar.

“One reason that makes the BJP win historic is that the party has raised its vote percentage in Kerala. The party used to get at best about 30 per cent of votes, but looking at Suresh Gopi’s performance this time, it appears that the party has bagged close to 40 per cent votes. That shows that the party has been able to break its image of being able to appeal to only upper class, upper caste Hindus, and expand its vote base to other Hindu groups. Also, the party appears to have influenced a good number of Christian voters in Thrissur”, political observer KP Sethunath told Gulf News.

Kochi-based commentator Ramesh Mathew said, “A good number of Christian voters may have voted for Gopi, thinking that the BJP would return to power with a brute majority in Delhi. This is reflected in the voting patterns in pockets like Thrissur, Irinjalakuda and Ollur.”

BJP finally making a foothold in Kerala overshadowed everything else, but Kerala’s ruling Left still struggled to find a place to hide as it ended with a single seat, won by K. Radhakrishnan, a minister who was fielded at Alathur, reflecting how seriously the LDF had attempted to make some gains amid a strong anti-government sentiment in the state.

The Congress camp, led from the front by KPCC president K. Sudhakaran who won convincingly from Kannur, was joyous through the day, except for two scares. One was in Thiruvananthapuram where Shashi Tharoor fell behind BJP’s federal minster Rajeev Chandrasekhar for an extended period before bouncing back, and the other a heart-stopping contest in Attingal which Congressman Adoor Prakash finally won by a thin margin.

But the cheers were loudest and the laddus appeared tastiest in Thrissur as Suresh Gopi turned a real-life hero for his tens of thousands of admiring party supporters. For years, he had been trolled for his statement, “I’m taking Thrissur”. When he did that on Tuesday, his Congress and Left opponents were left wondering what hit them.

Kerala tally: (Wins and leads)

UDF - 18 (Cong 14, IUML 2, KCJ 1, RSP 1)

LDF - 1

NDA - 1

Total - 20