Voters have changed, and we have benefited: Suresh Gopi

As a politician, BJP's Kerala MP projects himself as 'apolitical'

49-Suresh-Gopi Suresh Gopi | Rinku Raj Mattancheriyil

Interview/ Suresh Gopi, BJP leader

In March 2022, vice president Venkaiah Naidu asked a quirky question to actor-MP Suresh Gopi, who had come to the Rajya Sabha with a distinctive look. His beard was all grey, while his moustache was fully black.

“Is that a mask or a beard?” Naidu asked Gopi. Laughter erupted and Gopi, who was nominated to the house by the president in 2016, responded respectfully. “Beard, sir,” he said. “My new look, sir, for the next film.”

Detractors say Gopi’s humility and benevolence hide his hardcore hindutva mindset. The Lok Sabha results on June 4, however, showed that voters did not share the perception. Gopi made history by winning the Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency by a margin of 74,686 votes. He became the first BJP candidate to win a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala. Soon after the results, he appeared in his 2022 look and thanked the voters.

Just as in 2019, Kerala largely favoured the Congress-led United Democratic Front, which won 18 of 20 seats. There was strong anti-incumbency against the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance also benefited from it. In Thiruvananthapuram, Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar gave a tight fight to Shashi Tharoor, the Congress’s incumbent MP. At one point, Chandrasekhar led by 24,000 votes, but he ultimately lost by 16,077 votes.

Gopi’s victory marks his successful transition from cinema to politics. He had earned superstar status in the 1990s by playing firebrand characters―especially tough police officers―in political thrillers that were oddly thematically apolitical. Many view his political persona as a reflection of the mix of roles he has played.

As a politician, Gopi projects himself as “apolitical” to an extent. He was part of the CPI(M)’s student wing while in college, and regards Congress leaders Indira Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, and CPI(M) leader E.K. Nayanar, as icons. He calls Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his “great leader”.

In an interview with THE WEEK, Gopi attributed his victory to the “mindset change” of people who cast “apolitical” votes.


Q/ How does it feel to be the first BJP candidate to win a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala?

A/ Ecstasy. Political ecstasy. What was impossible became possible through my great leader (Modi).

Q/ There has been an impressive increase in BJP vote share in many constituencies.

A/ That mindset change is what we call as arashtriyam (apolitical). The voting mind has moved from a political ecosystem to an apolitical ecosystem. The voters have changed, and we have benefited [from it].

Q/ But do you think that people in Thrissur were voting primarily for you?

A/ Yes, to a certain extent. Even my party says that. Thrissur is not a BJP bastion. Before the 2019 results were announced, it was not at all a BJP bastion. (Gopi secured more than 28 per cent votes in Thrissur in 2019, up 17 per cent from 2014.)

Q/ There is criticism that you do not listen to the state BJP leadership.

A/ It is not that I don’t listen to them, but I get instructions from my leaders [at the Centre]…. I will definitely take valuable suggestions, but not nutty suggestions.

Q/ Modi gave a personal touch to your poll campaign.

A/ The first one, the Sthree Shakthi Sangamam (an event in Thrissur where Modi addressed two lakh women) was not aimed at projecting me. But then I was roped in, because they (the leadership) had a political intent. The second one was purely personal. He came for my daughter’s wedding.

Q/ So how effective was that personal touch?

A/ Let the people discuss it.