Dubai: While churning the murky ocean of caste politics in Kerala, arch-rivals Congress and the Left Front have taken turns in sharing the ‘amrita’ (nectar) of electoral victory, alternating between every five years.
But come the state legislative elections on Monday, and there is a third contender to the throne.
Dubbed Kerala’s Third Front, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the newly floated Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), is predicted to have the clout to upset the caste equations that have long decided the course of elections in the South Indian state.
And the man of the moment who is claiming he can command the political tides is Vellappally Natesan, the 79 year old leader of BDJS, who is also the general secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), an organisation of Ezhavas, the biggest OBC (Other Backward Castes) community in Kerala.
“People of the state have had enough of sleaze and scam. Hindus have felt neglected by both the Congress and the Left for a long time now. The birth of a Third Front was imperative in Kerala, and NDA has emerged as the new power,” Natesan told Gulf News.
“When I launched the new party, there were many who called it a dead baby much like how Jawaharlal Nehru called Indian Union Muslim League of Kerala a “dead horse”. But (late) C.H. Mohammad Koya told Nehru that IUML was a ‘sleeping lion’. Today, both the Communists and the Congress are unable to comprehend the strength of BDJS,” he said adding the BJP-BDJS alliance will see the Lotus blooming — not in one but several of the state’s 140 constituencies.
Natesan’s chest-thumping is not being entirely ignored in political circles, as both the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and United Democratic Front (UDF) have overtly and covertly acknowledged NDA as the prime adversary in many constituencies.
Last December when the SNDP leader launched BDJS to unite ‘all Hindus’ under its umbrella, the incongruity of the move would have left Natesan’s spiritual guru — 19th century Ezhava social reformer Narayana Guru — turning in his grave.
SNDP is an organisation that stands to propagate Guru’s teachings — the most profound being “Ask not, say not, think not caste!”
When asked about his caste politics being at odds with his organisation’s core values, Natesan had a ready retort.
“BDJS emerged as a natural reaction to decades of appeasement politics of both the Congress and the Left parties. All backward Hindu communities — not just Ezhavas — are rallying behind BDJS as we will work for their social and economic empowerment. We will also fight for the rights of the economically backward upper class Hindus.”
A civil contractor turned liquor baron, Natesan rose to political prominence when he was elected the General Secretary of the SNDP in 1996.
A staunch advocate of Ezhava politics, Natesan has played a crucial role in transforming the community into a political force to reckon with in the state.
Turning the 2016 state polls into a watershed election in Kerala was his decision to float BDJS and shake hands with the saffron party in a state where traditionally Ezhavas are a communist vote bank. Following the fallout with the communists, Veteran Communist Party of India — Marxist leader V.S. Achuthanandan has openly accused Natesan of misappropriating funds and pocketing millions from the microfinance scheme run by the SNDP.
The 92-year-old communist stalwart had also earlier alleged that the Ezhava leader had made 100 crores as bribes from appointments he made at the SNDP-run educational institutions across the state — allegations denied by Natesan.
Responding to a question on his rivalry with Achuthanandan, and his party’s concerted campaign to defeat him in his stronghold Malambuzha constituency this election, Natesan responded, “Don’t have a foregone conclusion that Achuthanandan will win in Malampuzha. This election will be an eye-opener to many like him.”
He also rubbished rumours that the BJP government at the centre has promised to make him or his son Thushar Vellappally a Minister of State position in Delhi if BDJS proves its merit in the upcoming election.
“No MP seat and not even a ministerial position can lure me away from Kerala. I can assure you that till my last breath, I will stay here and continue to serve my community,” said the leader.