PM Modi's Kerala Visit: Why BJP Has Set Sights on 'Cultural Capital' Thrissur

Thrissur is one Parliamentary constituency where voters have no clear favourite.

Hindi Female

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Kerala for the second time in two weeks, signifying the Bharata Janata Party's renewed focus on Kerala. The prime minister is set to visit the Guruvayoor temple in Thrissur on Tuesday, 16 January, and will also attend actor Suresh Gopi's daughter's wedding.

Suresh Gopi, a former Rajya Sabha MP, will most likely be the BJP's candidate in Thrissur constituency, which is located in central Kerala.

With PM Modi's visit to the same constituency earlier on 3 January, the BJP had sounded the poll bugle for the Lok Sabha elections in the CPI(M)-ruled state.

He had come to Kerala's 'cultural capital' to participate in the 'Sthree Shakti Modikkoppam' programme (Women Empowerment With Modi) – an event hosted by the BJP's state unit to "thank him for successfully passing the Women's Reservation Bill." But the objective of his visit wasn't lost on political observers.

About 2 lakh women were said to have participated in the programme held at Thrissur's Thekkinkadu Maidanam, which is where the famous temple fest, Thrissur Pooram, is held annually. Among the guests were Rajya Sabha MP and sportsperson PT Usha, actress and dancer Shobana, and singer Vaikom Vijayalakshmi.

Gopi, who had contested on a BJP ticket from Thrissur in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly polls, was also spotted alongside PM Modi in a roadshow taken out as part of the event.

Thrissur is one Parliamentary constituency where voters have no clear favourite.

Among the guests were Rajya Sabha MP and sportsperson PT Usha, actress and dancer Shobana, and singer Vaikom Vijayalakshmi.

(Photo: X)


The BJP, which neither has Assembly nor Parliamentary seats in Kerala, had previously focused its electoral campaigns on Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram, where the party has some support. But its decision to begin its Lok Sabha 'campaign' in Thrissur – that, too, by deploying PM Modi – is strategic in more ways than one.

The Cultural Factor

Addressing the women at the event, PM Modi said:

"I am grateful to the Sthree Shakti which has come here in huge numbers to bless me. Luckily, I am an MP from the constituency of Kashi which is called Shiv ki Nagri. Here also, in Vadakkunnathan Temple, Lord Shiv resides. Today, the energy emanating from the cultural capital of Kerala, Thrissur, will reverberate new hope in the entire Kerala."
As per The Times of India
Thrissur is one Parliamentary constituency where voters have no clear favourite.

PM Modi in Thrissur.

(Photo: X)

Thrissur's cultural quotient rests heavily on the Thrissur Pooram, a festival involving three major temples, including the Vadakkunnathan temple.

The festival, however, was at the centre of a controversy recently after the Cochin Dewasom Board threatened to increase the rent of the Thekkinkadu Maidanam, where it is annually held. As the Opposition Congress and the BJP initiated protests over the same, the CPI(M)-led Left government resolved to maintain the status quo for the "smooth conduct of the pooram."

The pooram, in other words, is a matter of pride for the people of Thrissur and has historically transcended religious lines. But the popularity of this temple-centric festival makes Thrissur an ideal ground for the BJP to apply its Hindu nationalist politics, say political experts.

Though the constituency has only seen Left Democratic Front (LDF) versus United Democratic Front (UDF) battles, Thrissur has been on the BJP's radar since before the 2019 Parliamentary polls. It was one of the five focus districts of the party – apart from Thiruvananthapuram, Kasargod, Palakkad, and Pathanamthitta.


The 2019 elections also came on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling that women should be permitted inside the Sabarimala temple, which is located in Pathanamthitta. There were widespread protests organised by the BJP across the state against women's entry – and one such protest in Thrissur led to clashes as well.

However, electorally speaking, the Sabarimala issue didn't help the party make inroads in the state in 2019, indicating that the BJP's Hindutva politics had its limitations in Kerala.

Incidentally, the PM's speech in Thrissur this time made a mention of Sabarimala, Thrissur Pooram, and the INDIA bloc's alleged "attempts to destroy our temples." By referring to the INDIA bloc, the PM wanted to emphasise that the UDF and the LDF, which are 'enemies' in the state, are 'united' at the centre.

The PM's speech also focused on the women voters and made mentions of Nair Service Samajam (NSS) founder Mannathu Padmanabhan. The Nair community is a growing vote bank for the BJP.

The Christian Vote Bank

Thrissur has always had a strong presence of both the UDF and the LDF. While TN Prathapan from the Congress-led UDF is the current MP (who won in 2019 by defeating CPI's CN Jayadevan), all the seven Assembly segments that make up the Parliamentary constituency have CPI and CPI(M) MLAs.

Moreover, since 1998, the LS seat has alternated between the Congress and the CPI. Thrissur is one constituency where voters have no clear favourite.

The BJP, however, made impressive gains in Thrissur in 2019. In 2014, when the party's candidate was KP Sreesan, its vote share was a little over 11 percent. But five years later, with actor Suresh Gopi as its candidate, the party's vote share went up to 28 percent. Both times, however, the party was in the third place.

Apart from the majority Hindus making up 58 percent of the population, Thrissur district also has 25 percent Christians – another vote bank the BJP has been trying to appease in Kerala. About 40 percent of the population in Thrissur town belongs to the community.

"What the BJP is trying to do this time in Kerala is consolidate Hindu and Christian votes. The demographics work perfectly in Thrissur, as there is a good chunk of Hindu and Christian voters," explains senior journalist MP Basheer.

For instance, Andrews Thazhath, the Archbishop of Thrissur, is known to have BJP leanings. He had met Amit Shah in June and has met PM Modi in the past. "Some of the Christian groups in Thrissur are well-aligned with the BJP's politics. Cultural events like the pooram are not only an emotional factor for the Hindus but also the Christians as well. In other words, Thrissur has the ideal demographics wherein Hindu cultural sentiments can be applied," he explains.


Recently, Saji Cheriyan, a minister from the ruling party in Kerala, criticised leaders of various Christian denominations for taking part in PM Modi's Christmas lunch, while "maintaining silence on the Manipur issue." The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), which is the highest body of priests of the Catholic Church in the state, hit back at the CPI(M), saying that "people holding high offices should refrain from making such insulting remarks."

Suresh Gopi – The Face of BJP?

Actor Suresh Gopi's entry into the BJP may have also helped the party make some gains in Thrissur. While Kerala is generally not as accepting of films stars in politics – barring Ganesh Kumar, (late) Innocent, and Mukesh – as other south Indian states, journalist and television personality Jacob George says:

"Suresh Gopi has a star value. He naturally has more support than an average BJP leader in Kerala because he is a familiar face for Malayalis. But the question is whether he would be able to win with just that."

Gopi, besides having a very strong acting career, has been the host of the Malayalam version of the game show 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire'.

"Apart from his films, for the past five years or so, Suresh Gopi has been trying to make his presence felt in Thrissur through his charity work and cultural organisations. There's also been a strong social media engineering for him as well," explains Basheer.

But even during his campaigns and media interactions, Gopi is known to show certain cop-like mannerisms that he has emulated from his films – in which he is almost always "on the side of justice."


But these actions may also cause for voters to not take him seriously, opines George. Recently, for instance, Gopi came under fire for misbehaving with a woman journalist on camera – and for issuing what media professionals termed a "non-apology" for his actions.

"The problem with the BJP is that it does not have a good leader in Kerala. There is no one. The LDF and UDF, on the other hand, are two mainstream political lines with a lot of support from their youth and student wings. There is no Oommen Chandy, AK Antony, Achuthananthan, or Pinarayi Vijayan in the BJP. There is a vacuum of leadership in the BJP – and this has been the case for years."
Jacob George

As a result, George opines that this time, too, the party's campaign face would most likely be PM Modi – as has been the case in other states.

(This story was originally published on 5 January. It has been republished with edits from The Quint's archives in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second visit to Kerala in two weeks.)

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Topics:  PM Narendra Modi   Thrissur   Kerala BJP 

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