The terrorist attack in Uri hasn’t taken the sheen out of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national council meeting, which began in the coastal city of Kozhikode in North Kerala on Friday.

The conclave has re-energised the party rank and file. Huge portraits of party leaders dot public spaces while green and saffron flags flutter in every corner of the city.

This verve has also vindicated the party brass, which had chosen to host the conclave in this city during its national executive meeting in Allahabad in June.

The conclave marks the beginning of year-long centenary celebrations of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, who developed the Jan Sangh’s – and the BJP’s – ideology based on integral humanism and cultural nationalism. And the party could find no better place than Kozhikode, which is where Upadhyay was elected president of the Sangh in December 1967.

Political space

Behind the veil of tribute lies the realpolitik. The BJP's central leadership hopes the mega event will help its Kerala unit attract new allies and corner both the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front – which take turns to rule the state every five years – with intense political campaigning.

A few months before the Assembly elections in Kerala that concluded earlier this year, the BJP showed the capability to transform the state’s political landscape. It presided over the birth of two new political parties – the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena and Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha – after cajoling Ezhava community leader Vellappally Natesan and fierce Dalit activist CK Janu, besides splitting the Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha, a prominent Dalit outfit, to set up a state unit of the National Democratic Alliance.

It also inducted popular Malayalam film actor Suresh Gopi into the Rajya Sabha in an attempt to win the trust of Malayalee voters.

However, the efforts didn’t pay much of a dividend and the NDA – which was expected to make giant strides at the hustings – had to be content with winning just one seat. But the party took solace in finishing second in seven assembly constituencies and more than doubling its vote share from 6% in 2011 to 16% in 2016.

According to a post-poll analysis by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, the NDA garnered 34% of Nair votes, 18% of Ezhava votes, 23% of Dalit votes and an unexpected 10% of Christian votes.

Wooing Christians

The increase in its Christian vote share has raised the BJP’s hopes and the party is now seriously thinking of ways to reach out to the community. Besides, it hopes to bring KM Mani’s Kerala Congress, which commands huge support from the church, into its fold.

Mani severed his long association with the Congress-led United Democratic Front in July and decided to remain in the legislative Assembly as an independent entity.

The Centre’s decision to make Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj the head of the delegation to the Vatican for the canonisation of Mother Teresa earlier this month was seen as an attempt to win the church’s trust. A majority of the 11-member team was from Kerala, and included Mani’s son Jose K Mani.

With an aim to boost the party’s growth in Kerala, the BJP’s state unit has prepared a vision document with inputs from a high-level team comprising a retired civil servant, an educationist, a reputed administrator and a journalist. The document will be submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the national council meeting.

Party national secretary H Raja confirmed the central leadership’s plan for the state during a press conference in Kozhikode on Thursday. “The national council meeting would discuss political and economic issues,” he said. “It will also chalk out strategies for different states, especially Kerala, where the party registered an impressive showing, garnering 16% of the total votes in the Assembly election.”

Taking on CPI(M)

The BJP is also planning to portray itself as a victim of political violence perpetrated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) throughout the state, and in Kannur in particular. The BJP has maintained that there has been a spurt in attacks on its workers and those of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ever since the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front came to power in the state in June.

A high-level BJP delegation led by H Raja, Nalin Kumar Kateel and Ananth Kumar Hegde visited the homes of the victims a few days before the conclave, and also submitted a memorandum in this regard to the governor.

The party’s state general secretary, K Surendran, said the parliamentary team that visited Kannur had received evidence of human rights violations by the CPI(M) in the district, and had “already taken up the issue with the central leadership”.

H Raja said the party would take the issue seriously and try to convince the people of Kerala about the CPI(M)’s politics of violence. “The national council will take stock of the situation,” he said, adding, “We have come across around 400 attacks targeting BJP and RSS workers after the CPI(M)-led government came to power in the state.”

Alliance issues

But even as the central leadership looks to Kerala with hope, the inability of its state leaders to keep the alliance intact came to the fore on Friday when Vellappally Natesan accused the BJP of not keeping its promises.

“The promises made by the BJP during the NDA formation still remain promises,” he told reporters in Alappuzha. “The BDJS is disappointed. The rift in the BJP’s Kerala unit may be causing the trouble.”

Vellappally, a controversial figure, timed his comments to coincide with the opening day of the BJP conclave. Though his son, Thushar Vellappally, the president of the BDJS, later said there were no issues between the allies, he, too, expressed concern over unkept promises. “We haven’t got the positions promised by the BJP at the time of forming the NDA.”

It remains to be seen how BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan and his team expand the NDA, and if they manage to sort out these differences with the allies.