On 25 July, 2015, at a rally in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that "there was some problem with Nitish Kumar's DNA". The PM subsequently corrected it to "DNA of democracy". Nitish Kumar, the astute politician that he is, latched on to it and termed it an insult to the people of Bihar in an open letter that was released on Twitter. It was later made into a major issue and when the results were announced on 8 November, the BJP had lost by a huge margin in a state where they began confidently on the back of their thumping victory in the 2014 General election.
Cut to 8 May, 2016, at an election rally in Kasargod, the only constituency where the BJP has come second consistently in every assembly election since their inception in 1980, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a certain remark that he might probably go on to regret. Modi reportedly stated that the infant mortality rate (IMR) of the Scheduled Tribes in the state of Kerala was worse than that of Somalia.
While the comments didn't gain a lot of attention that very day as the media did not highlight that part of his speech, a combative 5 page letter written by the Chief Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, and released to the media, brought the matter to centre-stage a couple of days later. The Chief Minister, who was appreciative of the Prime Minister's visit in the wake of the Puttingal temple tragedy less than a month ago, was scathing in his language here and asked the Prime Minister to "show political decency by withdrawing his comments".
While the comment itself was an absolute falsehood, much like the Gujarat model that fooled votes in the 2014 elections, it did not go down well with the general public in Kerala.
While the BJP has never managed to send even a single MLA to the Kerala assembly even in their Jan Sangh days, their performance in the Lok Sabha elections had made them hopeful of opening their account in the state.
In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP upped its vote share by 4% to 10%. And they bettered that in the local body elections in 2015 and reached around 14%. While BJP President Amit Shah has been camping in the state for a couple of weeks, Prime Minister Modi made it a point to address voters in at least 6 rallies between the 6 May and 11 May. This indicates the kind of importance the BJP has attached to the state in the hope of a major breakthrough.
A bit of number crunching and other factors might indicate that apart from Nemom, where veteran O.Rajagopal (or Rajettan as he is better known) is contesting, and where they have stolen a march ahead of the LDF and the UDF, the BJP might not go beyond second place in any of the other 6 constituencies where they are really fancying their chances.
But what has come as a bolt from the blue for the candidates who were putting up a tough fight in their respective constituencies is this Somalia jibe of their leader. Many fence-sitters and first time voters, who might otherwise have cast their vote for the BJP especially in places like Thiruvananthapuram, would have developed second thoughts. Like people in any other state, the people of Kerala too are high on self-esteem and wouldn't tolerate their state being sullied by an "outsider" on the basis of wrong facts, even if that person might be the Prime Minister of the country.
What the Chief Minister might have left unsaid in his letter, was conveyed in no uncertain terms by Twitteratti and the Malayalees worldwide when they trended the Hashtag #PoMoneModi(Go Home, kiddo) for almost a day coming up with the most inventive and satirical takes on the matter.
What compounded matters further was that the BJP leaders in the state were left with the unenviable task of defending Modi's remark in TV studios thereby risking the alienation of more potential voters. State BJP President Kummanam Rajasekharan, who is contesting from the Vattiyoorkkavu constituency of Thiruvananthapuram in what is clearly a triangular contest, took it upon himself to try and clarify the matter.
It is rather unfortunate that someone like a Kummanam, who has been making politically correct statements ever he took over as state president, was left to defend the remark. The Prime Minister, who addressed another meeting in Thrippunithura on the same day on 11 May, however chose to ignore the matter. State BJP leaders do admit in private however that this could really hurt them in the polls.
On 19 May, when the results of the polls are declared, it would be worthwhile for the BJP to ponder whether the Prime Minister's silly comment shaved a couple of percentage points off their final vote share regardless of whether they open their account or not in Nemom.
Edited by Aditya Menon