BJP’s Peninsular Pitch | In Bid to Conquer Kerala, Party Taps Into Christian Community’s Concerns

BJP’s Peninsular Pitch
Electoral success keeps eluding the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala despite its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) being active in the state for decades. However, the top leadership believes that there will be a gradual change in the coming years, with the saffron party’s development plank for the poor and downtrodden resonating among the locals.

The party has found the going tough, despite struggling for years, to even be considered an alternative to the incumbent Communist Party of India (Marxist). However, with the Congress being ruled out as an effective alternative to the Left government, grassroots work by the RSS and BJP may soon bear fruit, believe senior party leaders.

Will the Bharatiya Janata Party make inroads in the state a reality soon or is victory going to elude it in this southern state yet again? What is the BJP going to do differently this time to ensure it is seen as the principal opponent and natural alternative to the dispensation in power? These are some of the questions the party is asking itself and working to ensure it does better than its previous performances.

During the last elections, support for the PM was 30% and the BJP got 13% votes. Our effort is to translate the support that the PM enjoys to the BJP

Religion remains the epicentre of Kerala politics and this is not going to change anytime soon. And the BJP too wants to play its cards right.

The party believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting the Pope during the October 2021 G20 summit in Rome has changed the sentiments of the Christian community towards it.

A key fact — Christians comprise 20% of the state’s population.

PM Modi-Pope Meeting a Game-Changer?

A senior church bishop told Union minister V Muraleedharan that he had met the Pope who was enthused about the meeting with the Prime Minister.

“The Bishop said he knew there would be an impact but didn’t know it would be to this extent. So, the word reaches the community. During the last elections, support for the PM was 30% and the BJP got 13% votes. Our effort is to translate the support that the PM enjoys to the BJP,” said the minister, who believes that “vicious campaigns” against the party in the media to portray it as anti-minority and anti-Christian will fade.

Is CPI(M) in a Dilemma?

A recent incident of a Christian woman marrying a Muslim man has opened a Pandora’s box in the state’s politics after a CPI(M) leader condemned the act and termed it “love jihad“. The party had to publicly censure him to set an example. But there is a reason why the rebuke was imminent, say BJP leaders, as the incident had political ramifications for the state government.

Union minister Muraleedharan said that the matter was not just another controversy in a complex society like Kerala.

The issue of love jihad is a serious concern not just in the Hindu community but in the Christian community as well. The Christian community feels helpless

“My feeling is the CPI(M) wanted to have the support of Muslims and Christians. But with the present situation, it looks impossible. The CPI(M) may be feeling that it is easier to bring in the Muslim community than bringing in the Christians, and this is to be done by supporting fundamentalists and Islamic terrorists,” explained the minister.

“By doing this, the Muslim League gets weakened on the one hand and they will get the support and they can on their own come to power without the support of any other ally. So, Muslims and cadre votes, mostly Hindus, will help them come back to power. That is why they chose Muslims over Christians and it is the real reason why they censured their leader for speaking about love jihad.”

More than the community leaders, it is the political climate that gives a fertile ground to extremists to grow in Kerala, believes the BJP. “A Muslim youth gets misled because he gets political patronage. Both the Congress and CPI(M) have been doing it. It is the leadership that is at fault for promoting extremist elements in the state,” added the minister.

Congress’s Loss Can be BJP’s Gain

The Christians who have been traditionally voting for the Congress are slowly getting drawn towards the BJP, believes the Union minister.

“The issue of love jihad is a serious concern not just in the Hindu community but in the Christian community as well. The Christian community feels helpless. Their representatives are unable to voice their opinions and concerns of the community,” stated the minister, blaming Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan government for such a situation.

This time, nobody would believe that Rahul Gandhi has even a distant chance of becoming the prime minister

He added that many Christian priests appreciated his arguments on “love jihad”.

“I, in a meeting, said that the Christian community has been at the receiving end of the Islamic fundamentalist threat across the world. Be it Easter Day killings in Sri Lankan churches in 2019, or massacres in Syria and Iraq. The latest incident was in Calicut where a Christian girl married a Muslim CPI(M) leader. A CPI(M) leader voiced his concern but he was censured by the party,” added the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.

Muraleedharan said that in 2019, the Congress was successful in presenting before the people that Rahul Gandhi was going to be the next prime minister. And that with him contesting from Kerala, the state will have a PM.

“This time, nobody would believe that Rahul Gandhi has even a distant chance of becoming the prime minister. I am not sure whether he is trying to fight the elections next time,” added the minister.

‘Can Win 4-5 Lok Sabha Seats With Good Candidates’

“We have been friendly with the Christian community. There are concerns in the Christian community and they have raised those concerns on our platforms. We are meeting them regularly and they are raising their concerns to us. In case of a feud between churches, they wanted the central government to intervene and find a solution. They have confidence in the BJP leadership,” explained Muraleedharan.

The minister said that with the RSS having worked for years in the state, other nationalist forces and allies were supportive of the BJP but the party didn’t have good and capable candidates.

“That is where we failed. When I say good candidates, they may not necessarily be from the present BJP,” Muraleedharan said, hinting that the party may field dissatisfied candidates from other parties as well.

Riding SilverLine

The SilverLine project is in the eye of a storm with the state “misleading” the people that it has been approved by the Union government, prompting the Centre to make a statement in Parliament that it has issued no clearance.

Union minister V Muraleedharan is on a mission and is visiting every household along the coastline, the proposed route of the state government’s ambitious venture.

The SilverLine project, a high-speed rail route from the south to the north of Kerala along the coastline, has been a flash point between the BJP and CPI(M).

The state government, BJP accuses, has put markers in the form of concrete blocks in people’s houses in places that will be used for the rail project without legal approval. The BJP believes that this was done to mislead the Centre into assuming that residents were willing to give up their houses and lands for the project, thereby pressurising the Union government to give approval.

Muraleedharan has been visiting the houses of these people and documenting their protest. He is also explaining to them that the Centre has no role in it and has not given approval to the state for the project.

The Yawning Gap

In Kerala, the closest the BJP has come to a major electoral victory is when its candidate O Rajagopal lost to Congress’s Shashi Tharoor in the 2014 elections by 14,000 votes on the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat. After the Sabarimala temple row, there was resentment against the CPI(M).

“In 2019, even though common people supported the BJP, it was not considered to be in a position to defeat the CPI(M). That is why the people voted for the Congress. The Congress got 19 out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats. Now, the Congress is down nationally and in Kerala as well. The BJP is the option they are looking at,” said the minister.

Many told us that they voted for the Pinarayi government as he has given them free ration. What he did was package that ration with his face on it

“And I can definitely say that on a minimum four to five seats we have very good prospects, provided we give good candidates who can be up to the imagination of the voters. If that is the case, we can have a good fighting chance on five seats.”

Muraleedharan reiterated that the BJP needs to have good candidates. “We will be open to good candidates from wherever who are willing to contest on BJP tickets.”

A major issue in Kerala is of political murders, with violence reported from both sides in the past. Muraleedharan says that this time the BJP is not in the dock for murders.

“Two murders took place in Palakkad and Alleppey and no one can accuse the BJP or RSS of them. They were stray incidents in which a terrorist Muslim organisation person was killed and in retaliation an RSS leader was killed. So, there could be two scenarios: either it was intelligence failure or the CPI(M) is hand in glove with the terrorist organisation. On both these counts, the CPI(M) will be at the receiving end,” added the MoS for parliamentary affairs.

The party has begun an exercise to ensure that people know that benefits like the ration they have received was a central scheme and not of the state.

“Many told us that they voted for the Pinarayi government as he has given them free ration. What he did was package that ration with his face on it. I agree Kerala BJP did not do enough to reach out to the people on what the Centre was doing for them,” Muraleedharan said.

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