‘They thought he can separate the Muslim votes and win, but the Kerala mind is completely different.’
‘It is a secular mind because Hindus, Christians and Muslims live together.’
‘We don’t like somebody coming from outside, contesting in our state, winning and going and avoiding us.’
Even in tiny Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad that sits at the tri junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, it is not easy to find the guest house Thushar Vellapally is camping at.
Vellapally, a businessman and president of the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala — was brought in from the Thrissur Lok Sabha seat to contest against Rahul Gandhi by BJP President Amit Anilchandra Shah, whom Thushar refers to as Amitbhai.
The guest house is a bungalow in the midst of an abundantly green garden; the car that will take him campaigning for the day is ready in the driveway.
In the sitting room, the sofas are occupied by family and friends — one among them is Thushar’s wife Asha.
A soft spoken and pleasant lady dressed in a kurta and parallel pants, she comes out to say hello — today is the first day she will go out campaigning with women to muster support for her husband.
The BDJS is a political party associated with the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalanayogam, SNDP, an organisation for the prominent Hindu Ezhava community in Kerala.
The party was formed in 2016 and contested 37 seats in the assembly election.
The BJP-BDJS alliance won one seat (BJP veteran and former Union minister O Rajagopal was elected an MLA from Thiruvanathapuram) and accounted for nearly 15% of the vote share.
This is Tushar Vellapally’s first Lok Sabha election and he has launched an aggressive campaign to take on Rahul Gandhi.
Wayanad is dotted with posters of all three major contestants, and Vellapally had undertaken a road show through Sulthan Bathery — another town in Wayanad — the previous evening.
Just before setting out for the day’s campaign, the candidate spoke to Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih under a shady tree, ahead of a very hot day in Wayanad.
When did you exactly know that you were to contest from this seat? When did Amit Shah tell you about your candidature?
When discussion started about this seat and it was known that Rahul Gandhi was going to contest, Mr Shah told me to contest.
I said whatever the PM and Amitbhai say, I will do.
I had started work in Thrissur and had already campaigned for 5 days there.
It was during that time that they declared Rahul Gandhi’s candidature and Amitbhai called me and said can you contest. I said if you wish, I will.
How do you describe your relationship with Mr Shah? How has it been built?
I am a party leader and we had a connection for 2, 3 years.
You said you left Thrissur to come to Wayanad. What if you lose? Is it the price to pay for a better relationship with the BJP in the future?
This is my party’s seat and the NDA needed a strong candidate in Wayanad.
That’s why Amitbhai and the PM told me to come here and I came.
What do you think of Rahul Gandhi? Who is your opponent in this election? Rahul or the LDF’s P P Suneer?
Rahul is my opponent.
He can’t pull a good performance here because Malayalis are different.
They are educated people.
Rahul is trying to play a communal game here.
They thought he can separate the Muslim votes and win, but the Kerala mind is completely different.
It is a secular mind because Hindus, Christians and Muslims live together.
We don’t like somebody coming from outside, contesting in our state, winning and going and avoiding us.
Especially, Wayanad is a different place with different people.
Nearly 40% are tribes and they can’t even interact with Rahul Gandhi.
Video Editor: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
You are accusing Rahul Gandhi of running a communal campaign?
He is running a communal campaign and only trying to get minority votes.
His family separated India and Pakistan, similarly he is talking about south India and north India.
Why does he want to talk like that? By coming from north India to contest in south India, is he going to rescue people from all their problems?
The party that you are aligned with — the BJP — is perceived to be communal, so isn’t this a dichotomy? You say you are secular, but the party you are aligned is thought to be otherwise.
How can you talk like that? The BJP is not a communal party.
For 55 years, the Congress was ruling and every year communal riots were happening in India, but in the last 5 years there have been no communal riots.
How can you call the BJP communal? The BJP has aligned with Muslims; in Goa with Christians.
In the north, the BJP aims to consolidate the Hindu vote like in 2014.
That is a different angle.
Different people have different angles. That is it.
Why is your party so important to the BJP? Is it because of the numerical strength of the Ezhava community?
This party is not only for the Ezhava community.
Our vice president is a Christian priest.
There are Muslims, Hindus in the party.
You see nothing wrong in aligning with the BJP?
What is the problem? The BJP is a secular party.
It is not a communal party.
There is no problem when the Congress aligns with the Muslims League and Kerala Congress.
Do you think the BJP is more secular that the Congress?
100%. The BJP always stands for the Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Your father told my colleague Shobha Warrier that the ‘BJP does not have political decency’. Soon after, to assuage his anger, the BJP made you convenor of the NDA in Kerala.
No, never, never. I was proposed by Amitbhai when the NDA started and I became convenor.
He (SNDP general secretary Vellapally Natesan) did not give any negative statement about the central government.
He spoke about the system not being good in the state of Kerala.
He did not talk about Amitbhai or the prime minister.
Has the relationship between your party and the state BJP unit improved?
It has. Earlier, the NDA wasn’t formed and its work wasn’t happening.
Now the NDA is very strong in Kerala.
Are you sure of 100% support from the local BJP for your candidature?
100%. Three more (BDJS) candidates are contesting in this election and everywhere the BJP is supporting us.
Is the BJP or your party running the everyday schedule of your campaign?
All the programmes are fixed by the NDA committee.
Are the Ezhavas moving away from the Left to your party?
Yes. A lot have moved away.
I was also an SFI (the Communist of India-Marxist’s Student Federation of India) chairman.
They (Ezhavas) have shifted (from the Left) because they are not doing anything for the development of Kerala.
The LDF and UDF have ruled Kerala after Independence and look at the infrastructure. The government offices are either built by the British or the Rajas.
The development here is done by the people who went to the Gulf, made money and built houses here.
How big a factor is Mr Modi in this election in Kerala?
He is a big factor.
Kerala is looking for development and for that Modi is big.
You are new to the people here and they are new to you — what has been your interaction like?
I am not new here.
I am connected to the people because I am a Malayali.
We are not accepting anybody from outside (laughs).
How can Rahul Gandhi connect with Kerala and the people of Wayanad?
Your father told us once that he wants to unite the Hindus of Kerala.
Do you think that dream is an impossibility given the fact that there are such divisions between the upper castes and backward castes like the Ezhavas?
That is not a big problem because even now everyone is trying to unite them.
All Hindus have to have strength because all sections of Hindus have to be together.
We are doing it and that is almost done.
When is your party likely to merge with the BJP?
We are not. We are a separate political party (laughs).
If I wanted to merge with the BJP, I could have done it before.
What quality of Amit Shah impresses you most?
Amitbhai and the PM have done lots for India and we respect that.
How often do you talk to him?
Every month, twice or thrice.
What are his concerns? What do you talk about?
We only talk about one thing — terrorism.
We are against terrorism.
All of India has to be together and we have to develop India, that is our aim and that is his dream.
You spoke about terrorism. What do you think about the fact that some Malayalis, especially from Malabar, have joined ISIS?
It is a very bad situation.
We know a lot of things are happening.
The reason is poverty.
Nobody wants to become a terrorist or Maoist.
They become anti-social elements because they don’t have money and jobs.
BJP leader V Muraleedharan once told us that Kerala will become another Kashmir.
I don’t think so because a majority of Muslims, Christians, Hindus want Kerala as a secular place.
A very small minority — 10, 15 — are going for ISIS because nobody supports them.
Even their families are not supporting them.
What is your slogan?
Development. Wayanad is a backward district in Kerala.
There are no major hospitals here.
What are your impressions about Mr Modi?
He is great and very nice.
I have met him a lot.
What are the principles that drive your politics?
Development. For 55 years the Congress ruled India and what have they done? They only started all the communal problems.
The separation between Hindus, Muslims, Christians have been made by the Congress.
Twenty years ago, we did not know who is Muslim, who is Christians, who is Hindu.
In the last 20, 25 years, they have created political parties in the name of communities and support any consolidated community.
That’s how communal thinking has started even in Kerala.
You are a businessman, what led you to politics?
I was the SNDP’s vice president and youth movement president for 20 years.
We are connected with politics.
Our community realised that the LDF and UDF was not supporting us and we started a new political party to fight against them.
In the three years that your party has been in existence, what are your achievements?
Three years back we started the party and strengthened it.
If you take the four political parties of Kerala, we are one of them.
Do you think the BJP wants to grow in Kerala by concentrating on the Ezhavas?
Don’t talk only of the Ezhavas.
In the last election, we won one seat and came 2nd in seven seats.
Before that, our vote share was only 6% — the last (assembly) election our vote share was 17%.
If you take Maharashtra, UP, Goa, what was the BJP’s vote share before? 12%, 9%, 8%. Compared to that, our jump is bigger.
What is your party’s contribution to this 17%?
Major. The BJP has been contesting for the last 30 years and how many votes have they got?
When we launched a new party, immediately the BJP got 10% extra vote share.
So your party is responsible for the BJP’s success?
Everybody has accepted that.
Your expectations this time?
5, 6 seats in Kerala.
We are fighting strongly.
Do you think you are on a weak wicket?
No, no. We have a very strong wicket (laughs).
I am fighting with a non Malayali and Malayalis know that he can’t do anything.
What has he done in Amethi? We don’t want any Amethi kind of development in Wayanad (laughs).
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