THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: BJP president Amit Shah today wound up his three-day Kerala visit with a call to the party workers to strive hard to "utilise the space" in the southern state's political arena, saying there was "enough potential" for the saffron party's growth there.
Addressing a series of meetings of BJP workers and office-bearers, he said there was enough potential for the party's growth in the state, which was being ruled by the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) alternately.
The BJP chief exhorted the workers to ensure an increase in the vote share of the party in Kerala from the present 15 per cent to a "minimum of 40 per cent", which, he said was "essential" for a poll victory in a three-cornered contest.
He also called for "professionalism" within the party. Earlier, Shah laid the foundation stone of the new BJP office here and described it as an "equal to the foundation stone for the formation of a BJP-led government in Kerala".
He also ate breakfast at the house of a grassroot-level BJP worker. In a bid to reach out to the members of the Christian community in Kerala, Shah had met the heads of the Syro Malankara, Syro Malabar and Latin Catholic churches and discussed the issues being faced by them, especially the members of the fishermen community.
Shah's Kerala visit had coincided with the Centre's notification banning the sale and purchase of cattle at the animal markets for the purpose of slaughter.
Kerala, where non-vegetarians account for over 90 per cent of the population, had expressed concern over the notification, with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan terming it as an "infringement on the states' rights". The contentious issue, however, did not come up during Shah's meeting with the church heads. The church heads expressed their concern about the Gadgil Committee report on the preservation of the Western Ghats.
The BJP chief assured them that another committee was looking into it. Stating that certain people had earlier claimed that several of the Centre's initiatives, including demonetisation, were blunders, but were later proved wrong, Shah told the party workers, "No one should think that the notification on cattle trade is a blunder either." Urging them to work 24x7, he said the party had all the potential in Kerala to defeat both the LDF and the UDF and emerge victorious.
The BJP chief also asked the party workers to take the achievements of the Narendra Modi government to the grassroot-level. Alleging that the previous Congress-led UPA regime was "corruption-ridden", he claimed that the opponents of the BJP could not level "a single corruption charge" against the NDA government. "We have provided a transparent, decisive and humane government," he said. Shah claimed that the Army's surgical strikes last year had given the country "an aura of a strong nation" and expressed confidence that the Jammu and Kashmir issue would be resolved very soon. He brushed aside the criticism on demonetisation and claimed that tax collection had gone up by 18 per cent after the notes ban, while 99 lakh new PAN cards had also been issued. The Centre was set to provide electricity connections to all the villages in the country by March, 2018 and no discrimination was being shown to the states ruled by the non-BJP parties, Shah claimed, adding that Kerala would receive Rs 98,912 crore as per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission. The state had received Rs 33,368 crore as per the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission as its share from central taxes. According to BJP sources, "no serious discussions" were held on bringing the erstwhile UDF partner, Kerala Congress (M), a regional party led by former state finance minister K M Mani, into the NDA fold during Shah's visit. The BJP chief also described his party's relations with the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, a political party formed by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, as "very good" and asserted that there was no misunderstanding between the two. He also met a group of Hindu saints and held discussions with them. Meanwhile, the ruling CPI(M) and opposition Congress in Kerala hit out at the saffron party and said Shah's "game plan" would not work in the southern state. CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged that the BJP wanted to "turn Kerala into Gujarat". "The BJP's strategy will not work," he told reporters in Delhi. Shah is likely to pay a visit to the state in October again in connection with party matters.