Anil K Antony, son of AK Antony, joining the BJP has shocked most people though his recent comments had clearly indicated it in advance. He did not make a move at the spur of the moment but through consciously calibrated steps taken in the past three months. Indeed, Congress hastened his saffron trip.
The 37-year-old IT professional’s first shot at Congress in January was with his surprise tweet against the recent BBC documentary that slammed Prime Minister Modi. He called the documentary anti-India in line with the BJP’s outburst. Yet, he also mentioned that he had “big differences with the BJP.” Anil’s tweet obviously angered Congress leaders who condemned him, and many abused him heavily. Soon Anil tweeted again that he was severing all relations with the party and stepped down as the KPCC’s digital media cell coordinator. Though he condemned the abuses on him as “negativities” being fed by the “destructive narratives,” Anil maintained that he would prefer to continue his “other professional endeavours”. He also appeared on Malayalam channels defending himself but dismissed rumours about joining BJP.
Soon Anil appeared on Republic TV to join BJP’s national bandwagon. Appearing on Arnab Goswami’s show on Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as MP, Anil trained guns directly at Rahul by calling Congress to stop focusing on “an individual’s gaffes and bloopers.” He carried the fusillade on Twitter attacking Youth Congress national president BV Srinivas as an “uncultured gutter mouth” for his alleged sexist remarks against BJP leader Smriti Irani. Calling Congress leaders “shameless people,” he even said 2024 would provide a chance to throw this “den of negativity to the dustbin of history”. Even after it was proved later that Srinivas was misquoted, Anil did not correct himself. He also lamented that his own social media accounts were being filled with hate mail and “people very close to very top leadership” threatened him with expulsion if he did not tender an apology. On April 2nd, Anil came in defence of Savarkar to tweet against Congress leaders’ “demonising” the Hindutva icon and asked the party to read how Feroze Gandhi and Indira Gandhi had praised him. In another tweet, he parroted the BJP that the World Happiness Index, which placed India at rock bottom, was yet another “sinister conspiracy” to malign India by evil forces. By then, he had passed the entrance test to join BJP.
Expectedly, Anil’s crossing over has triggered angry outbursts from the non-BJP camp and euphoria within the Sangh Parivar. BJP leaders claimed it as proof of the great march of Indian youth towards their party from which even traditional anti-BJP families cannot keep away. Sangh leaders who used to blast AK Antony as “nirgunaparabrahmam” and as India’s worst-ever Union Defence Minister on TV debates suddenly discovered great virtues in him, hoping to appropriate some of his goodwill.
Congress leaders were livid. KPCC boss K Sudhakaran, as always, won the cake for showering the choicest abuse. He said Anil’s “betrayal” of his father and the Congress had come appropriately on the Maundy Thursday that commemorated Christ’s Last Supper before he was betrayed by his apostle Judas Iscariot. The Maundy Thursday also marked “feet washing” (Maundy), but Sudhakaran’s imagination fell short of likening Anil’s act of doing something similar to his new masters. Social Media overflowed with vitriol against Anil for betraying his father and Congress. Many targeted AK Antony for not educating his son politically and even bequeathing his “soft Hindu” sentiments.
Indeed, Anil’s joining BJP is unfortunate at a time when anti-secular forces appear to establish a terrifying hegemony in the country. Yet, how could anyone question his right to join any party he liked? From his student days onwards, Anil had thought and acted independently, although he joined Congress during his thirties. He was part of the famous eight-member student group of College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram which started Torque, India’s first student startup in 2005, making it big. Anil also has brilliant academic qualifications, including a master's from Stanford University, and calls himself a tech entrepreneur and policy commentator. Surely, one can argue that Anil was hypocritical in continuously dismissing charges that he was joining BJP until he landed there. But is that much hypocrisy unusual in politics? Is it surprising that a youngster like him, with only a cursory interest in politics, was among those swayed by BJP, which happens to be the season's flavour for whatever reason?
Does Anil forfeit his right to join BJP just because his father belonged to Congress? Though dynastic politics and family lineages are common in the Indian political sphere with Congress leading the tradition, should that be mandatory? Disassociating from one’s parents or family’s traditional political/ideological line or crossing over to the rival camp has been a regular feature everywhere across time and space. Many first-generation Indian Communists came from staunch Congress families. Kerala’s most famous example was of RSP’s firebrand leader K. Balakrishnan of the RSP, who was a fierce critic of his father, C Kesavan, Congress leader and Chief Minister. CPI(M)’s State Secretary C H Kanaran’s son joining Congress made headlines during the 1980s. In fact, one generation moving away from the preceding one’s politics and culture has been natural, although whether Anil’s march from Congress to BJP is forward or backward is debatable. The most tragic and dramatic example of the father and son going in opposite ways was of Gandhi and his eldest son Harilal.
Forget about generational movement, haven’t so many politicians crossed to rival camps during their own careers? “Aayaram Gayaram” has been a traditional Indian expression that originated in Haryana when one Gaya Lal, who won the election as an independent in 1967 later joined Congress and then changed parties thrice in a fortnight! Haven’t AK Antony and K Karunakaran, icons of Kerala’s anti-Communist forces, crossed to the red camp at least once in their careers? Sudhakaran, who called Anil a traitor, was with the anti-Indira Syndicate Congress before he later switched to the Indira camp. K Muralidharan, who laments Anil should not have hurt his father, appears to have forgotten how he fell out with his father politically.
Muralidharan’s sister Padmaja Venugopal’s seems to be the only sensible comment on the topic. She called the Congress party to introspect why Anil and so many others continue to leave the organisation. The next day after Anil’s joining, Andhra’s former Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy left Congress for BJP. Even after he started to air his feelings, Congress did not try to keep Anil within the fold. But what about Congress’s present state of affairs? Does it give any reason to join or remain with it for the young and thinking generation? What Anil said about the party revolving around one or two individuals, even when the ship is fast sinking, cannot be far from the truth. Even after Rahul’s much-hyped Bharat Jodo yatra, has Congress come out with an alternative road map for India, different from BJP’s? Except for Rahul’s harping on the Modi-Adani brand of crony capitalism like a broken record, neither he nor his party has an alternative economic plan like his grandmother announced which caught the imagination of India’s ordinary masses and the young. Except for the lip service paid for secularism or farmers’ rights, Rahul and Congress haven’t sufficiently raised their voices for minorities or the peasants even when they hit the road for their rights. This triggered charges of soft Hindutva.
However, it is to be seen if Anil’s entry will help BJP more than as a symbolic victory. It is being said Anil could help BJP’s long ongoing attempts to endear Kerala’s Christian community. Though some Church leaders announced a deal to back BJP if rubber prices are hiked, to think the community would immediately go by their diktats would be a joke. Especially when Christian leaders have complained nationally about the growing atrocities against them. Moreover, it's far-fetched that Anil, unknown in Kerala until he joined AICC’s communication cell five years ago, would help BJP win Christian votes. Strangely, the BJP, which continues with a bankrupt leadership in Kerala and practically does nothing to better the lives of the people here, expects its popularity to swell with having one or two individuals joining it. We know what happened when truly popular stars like Suresh Gopi or E Sreedharan tried to help BJP make a mark in Kerala.