19/05/2016 7:56 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Braving A Lifetime Of Electoral Reverses, O Rajagopal Becomes First BJP MLA In Kerala

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INDIA - JUNE 21: O Rajagopal, Senior leader and former Union Minister ( BJP, Portrait ) (Photo by Hk Rajashekar/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again" — this old proverb seems fitting for the Bharatiya Janata Party's O Rajagopal, who on Thursday became the first BJP candidate to win a seat in the Kerala assembly. It came after braving decades of electoral defeats.

The 86-year-old party veteran, and two-time Rajya Sabha MP, has lost nine elections in the past—from several Lok Sabha elections since 1980 to a couple of bye-elections in last few years. But on Thursday, 'Rajettan' (as he is popularly known) won the Nemom seat, defeating the incumbent MLA, CPI(M)'s V Sivankutty. Rajagopal had lost to Sivankutty in the last Assembly elections by less than 7,000 votes.

It is a significant win for the BJP, which received more than 11 percent of the vote share in Kerala as per the latest round of counting. In many other constituencies in Kerala, the BJP candidates have come second. In the last Assembly elections, BJP contested in 138 constituencies and got about 6 percent of the vote share, though they didn't win any seats.

Rajagopal entered politics in the 1960s, when he joined the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and eventually became the party's state president in Kerala. He unsuccessfully contested in Lok Sabha elections in 1980 from Kasaragod and again in 1989 from Manjeri. He then had a hat-trick of failures in Lok Sabha elections in 1991, 1999, and 2004, all of which he contested from Thiruvananthapuram. In 2011 he lost the Assembly elections from Nemom. The next year he lost in the Neyyattinkara by-elections. He contested for a Lok Sabha seat from Thiruvananthapuram in 2014, only to lose again. Last year, he lost the Aruvikkara by-elections.

Working in a hostile political environment dominated by the Congress and the CPIM, he made significant inroads for BJP in Kerala. He improved BJP's performance and vote share from previous elections where they had other candidates who lost. For instance, he got 20.9 percent of the votes in 1999 in Thiruvananthapuram, a significant leap over the previous years, and even though he came third in the 2004 election winning close to 230,000 votes, it was the highest votes any BJP candidate had won till then.

Then Minister of state for Defence O. Rajagopal (L) talks with Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes in New Delhi, 4 February 2004.

His loss in 2014 was a neck-and-neck contest between him and Shashi Tharoor. In both the by-elections he lost, he also helped dramatically increase BJP's votes.

Over the years, he also held several key posts in the BJP — he was All India Secretary, General Secretary, as well as the Vice President of the BJP. He has been elected twice — in 1992 and 1998 — as a Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh. He has also held important portfolios under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government as Minister of State for Defence and Parliamentary Affairs, Urban Development, Law, Justice and Company Affairs, and Railways.

He is widely liked and respected due to his long political experience, integrity and personable conduct towards everyone. It's often said in Kerala that he's the right man in the wrong party, since BJP was never seen as having electoral prospects in the state. In the twilight of his life, Rajagopal has finally entered the assembly in his home state.