BJP playing dangerous game of driving wedge between Muslims and Christians in Kerala amid Lok Sabha elections

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By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI – The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, having failed to take any measures for welfare of minority communities during its 10-year-long rule at the Centre, is playing a dangerous game of driving a wedge between Muslims and Chrisitians in Kerala for reaping political benefits during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The saffron party has made an all-out attempt to entice Christians, who comprise 18.38% of the southern state’s population.

The BJP’s strategy is aimed at forming a coalition of Christians and Hindus, based on exploiting their shared insecurities with regard to Muslims. In the past, the voters in Kerala have changed political preferences depending on the unfolding social realities. With all the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala having gone to polls in the second phase on April 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed during his election campaign that the Christian community’s trust in the BJP has grown stronger and the BJP will do everything possible for their welfare.

The last three decades have witnessed the BJP’s vote share in Kerala growing from around 5% to 15% in Lok Sabha elections and from over 5% to 11% in Assembly elections. Yet, in the state’s 68-year history, the BJP or its predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, has won only a single seat, Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram district in 2016, in the 140-member Assembly. The BJP lost that seat in the next election.

The BJP’s ideological fountainhead, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been active in Kerala since the early 1940s, with its national leaders like Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar visiting the region quite a few times. According to the RSS, it had 95 ‘shakhas’ and 1,200 members in Kerala at the time of Independence. Today, it boasts of over 5,000 daily ‘shakhas’, which is the largest number after Uttar Pradesh, and 1.75 lakh members in the state. Even Gujarat has only around 1,000 ‘shakhas’.

The BJP’s national leadership has spared no effort to get a foothold in Kerala. Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have repeatedly stated their intention to capture the state. Even in his victory speech after the elections in Nagaland and Meghalaya in March 2023, Modi targeted the southern state and said he was confident that a BJP-led government would come in Kerala in the near future. The common factor in these states is their sizeable Christian population.

Christianity is the third-largest practised religion in Kerala, after Hinduism and Islam. The percentage of Christian population in Kerala is larger than their population in India as a whole, making it attractive for the BJP to pit the two minority communities against each other and make its own presence stronger in the state.

The ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) has projected itself as the most authentic anti-BJP front for the Muslims and an escape platform for Christians unhappy with the Congress and unsure of the BJP. The BJP’s calculations are based on suggesting a shared demographic threat perception among the Hindus and Christians. As regards the Congress, a return to power in Kerala will depend largely on its ability to bring back the Christians and Muslims together in its fold.

The BJP’s overture to Christians began last year when Modi hosted heads of various Christian denominations at his residence in New Delhi on the occasion of Christmas. Though the meeting was cordial, it led to a controversy in Kerala. Many questioned the clergy about not raising the atrocities against Christians, particularly in Manipur, at the meeting.

According to a report submitted by the United Christian Forum in the Supreme Court, Christians have faced over 400 crimes against them in various parts of the country in the first half of 2023, averaging more than two incidents a day. However, the Central Government dismissed it as an exaggeration. In April 2023, Modi visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on Easter day, and Kerala BJP leaders greeted the Church leaders.

Though the Christian leaders have not given any major political message in the BJP’s favour, Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplani, who heads the North Kerala diocese of the Syro-Malabar Roman Catholic Church, stated last year that Christian farmers would vote to help the BJP get its first Parliament seat from Kerala if the Central Government raised rubber prices. Christian farmers have, until now, voted in favour of the Congress or the Kerala Congress factions over which the Church has great sway.

Christians in Kerala enjoy better economic clout and social influence than in Goa or the North-East, as evident in an array of imposing churches, schools, hospitals, skilling centres and other infrastructure standing tall along the main roads. The community can potentially tilt scales in at least 13 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The attempts to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians were visible when the public broadcaster, Doordarshan, telecast the controversial film “The Kerala Story” in the middle of the election campaign. The telecast of the movie, which tarnishes the image of Kerala’s Muslims, was opposed by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the ruling LDF, but some Christian groups organised their own screening of the movie. This was among the many signs of differences emerging between the two minority communities, with the BJP trying its best to exploit it.

The Christian clergy’s recent outbursts against Muslims with the allegations of Christian girls being lured and married to Muslim youths and then travelling to the Middle-Eastern countries had their origins in the fear of the growing political, economic and numerical power of Muslims in Kerala. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar have readily supported Christians on these issues and there were a few skirmishes at some places between the two communities.

Political analysts feel that the core Hindu votes may get split to benefit the UDF under the watch of Rahul Gandhi, contesting from Wayanad. The BJP, on the other hand, has depended on the fringe groups of committed Christian voters, who are aptly dubbed ‘Chryssanghis.’ Causing a rift between Muslims and Christians will bring political benefits to the BJP, though it may cause an immense harm to communal harmony and destroy social relations in the culturally rich southern state.

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