On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Rahul Gandhi of contesting from a second seat, Kerala's Wayanad as he knew he would be punished by voters for raising "Hindu terror". Interestingly, his NDA coalition's candidate to take on the Congress president has a different view.
Thushar Vellapally, 50, has an interesting take on PM Modi's comment. "Kerala has a very different mentality. Communal votes won't work in Kerala, everyone lives in harmony. I will get votes from all Hindus, Christians, Muslims. BDJS (Bharat Dharma Jana Sena) works for backward groups and Wayanad is one of the most backward districts of Kerala", he told NDTV, just before he began a road show from a temple in Wayanad's Kalpetta.
Thushar Vellapally was not the NDA's first choice. Hours after Rahul Gandhi was declared as the Congress candidate from Wayanad, BJP president Amit Shah took to Twitter to announce a change in the NDA candidate in the same constituency. "I proudly announce Shri Thushar Vellappally, President of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena as NDA candidate from Wayanad. A vibrant and dynamic youth leader, he represents our commitment towards development and social justice. With him, NDA will emerge as Kerala's political alternative," Amit Shah tweeted.
Thushar Vellapally is the son of Vellapally Natesan, who heads the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP). The outfit represents the Hindu Ezhava caste, which has a sizeable, strong presence across Kerala and enjoys considerable influence.
Perhaps that is why the BJP chose Thushar Vellapally, who was to fight from Thrissur and had already started his campaign there. He was swiftly moved to Wayanad after the Congress announcement. He replaced his party colleague Paily Vathiattu, the earlier candidate in Wayanad.
The Left has dismissed him as any real threat.
"Thushar Vellapally is a Bharat Dharma Jana Sena candidate, not the candidate of the SNDP. He will have no impact. In all 20 constituencies, it's the Left against (the Congress-led UDF). And in Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi is going to get a taste of the Left machinery. He has contested in seats where the Left is not big," CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said.
The Ezhava votes in Kerala have traditionally voted more for the Left, the reason why Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, attempted to downplay Thushar Vellapalli's candidature.
"The BJP, which alleges that the Congress is fielding candidates on the basis of minority votes, needs to think and introspect hard. BJP stands no chance, no matter whom they bring in," IC Balakrishnan, the UDF legislator from Wayanad, told NDTV.
The BJP, in the 2009 parliamentary elections, had won 4 per cent of the votes in Wayanad, which rose to 9 per cent in the 2016 assembly elections. However, while the margin of UDF victory in 2009 in Wayanad was over a lakh votes of what LDF gained, the UDF won by just a margin of 20,000 in last parliamentary elections.