Nearly a month after removing Kummanam Rajasekharan as the president of its Kerala unit, the Bharatiya Janata Party is still to appoint his successor. Reason for the delay: the party and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have not found a candidate they can both agree on.

Rajasekharan, an RSS veteran and former chief of the Kerala Hindu Aikya Vedi, a Sangh Parivar affiliate, was unceremoniously removed as the state Kerala president on May 25, and appointed the governor of Mizoram.

Sangh Parivar officials who only agreed to speak anonymously said the BJP leadership removed Rajasekharan without consulting the RSS, much to its chagrin. It was, after all, the RSS’ lobbying that had landed Rajashekharan the job in 2015. The RSS had hoped that being a “non-partisan leader”, he would end the factional feuds that have long hobbled the BJP in the southern state.

Now, too, the RSS is insisting on a president who is above factional loyalties, the officials said, and its hard posturing is delaying the appointment.

H Raja, the BJP national secretary who looks after the party’s affairs in Kerala, denied this is the case. “There is no factional feud in the Kerala unit,” he claimed. “We are growing in Kerala. The increase in our vote share speaks volumes about our growth. National Democratic Alliance’s candidate performed well in the recent Chengannur bye-election. How can we achieve this if there is factional feud?”

The BJP was a strong contender in Chengannur but eventually finished behind the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress.

Raja said the BJP chief Amit Shah will announce the party’s new Kerala president before his visit to the state on July 3. On Shah’s direction, Raja has consulted as many as 60 Sangh Parivar leaders to discuss possible candidates. “I have appraised Amit Shah of their choices,” Raja said. “He will take the final call.”

Asked if delaying the appointment of the president would harm the party’s image, he said “one month is not a long time”. “We appointed the Andhra Pradesh state president a month after the incumbent left the office,” he added. “We haven’t wasted time. Our workers know that leaders are trying to find the best candidate to lead the party in Kerala.”

Riven by factionalism

The Kerala BJP is split vertically between the factions led by its former state presidents PK Krishnadas and V Muraleedharan. Krishnadas was the party’s chief from 2006 to 2010 while Muralidharan, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra this year, held the post from 2010 to 2015. Both factions have been lobbying the central leadership to get one of their own in the saddle: the Muraleedharan faction is backing K Surendran while the Krishnadas group is pushing for AN Radhakrishanan or MT Ramesh. All three are state general secretaries of the party. The BJP leadership prefers Surendran, the Sangh Parivar officials said, but the RSS is against elevating him. If the impasse continues, the officials added, then the former BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai or the convenor of the party’s “intellectual cell” R Balashankar could get a shot at the job.

On Friday, The New Indian Express reported that Pillai is set to be the president with Shah’s support. But Pillai told he has not received “any communication from the national president”.

Krishnadas denied the delay in appointing the new president has to do with the factional feud. “We have differences of opinion on certain issues within the party,” he said. “But it should not be portrayed as a factional fight.”

The delay, he claimed, is due to Shah’s busy schedule. “He is now busy dealing with matters in Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan,” Krishnadas said. “It does not mean that he is ignoring Kerala. I hope he will make a final announcement soon.”

Who is his choice for the job? “I have full faith in Shah’s decision,” Krishnadas replied, adding the party chief “will appoint the best candidate who can take the BJP to new heights in Kerala”.

It will certainly be a hard job for whoever gets it. That Rajasekharan was forced out before he could complete his three-year term later this year and just two days before the Chengannur bye-election showed Shah was unhappy with the Kerala BJP’s performance, particularly the veteran leader’s failure to contain factionalism. Given that the BJP wants to make a mark in Kerala in next year’s general election, the new president may not have much time to deliver.