THE BJP’s attempts to woo the Christian community to expand its support base in Kerala seems to have hit a roadblock, with the community’s leaders maintaining a distance amid the “communally charged atmosphere” in the country. While the BJP maintains that the “increasing threats from Islamic fundamentalism” are seen by the Christian community as a graver threat “than what is happening in India”, Church leaders in Kerala said their approach to the Centre ruling party would be “issue-based”.
The state unit of BJP is all set to launch a drive to earn the trust of Church leaders and the people from the community in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP is also “optimistic” about parties such as Kerala Congress (Mani), which has broken away from the Congress-led UDF, and groups with backing of the Christian community would join the NDA in Kerala. State BJP leaders said KC(M) leader K M Mani’s presence at an event hosted by the BJP Minority Morcha in Kerala to felicitate Philipose Mar Chrysostom of Marthoma Church in Kerala gives out “positive signals”. But denying that any discussion is on with the BJP on this issue, Mani told The Sunday Express, “I was at the event to honour Mar Chrysostom. I would have gone had whoever organised the event.”
A source in KCM said the party had some informal discussions over the prospects of joining the NDA some time ago, and is in a “dilemma” now. “With the communal atmosphere getting worse, and at a time minorities are being attacked in the name of cow protection, KCM, a party with a strong support base of Christian minorities, has reservations over discussing the possibility of joining hands with BJP,” a party leader said. Christians form 18.38 per cent of Kerala’s population.
V Muraleedharan, former president of Kerala BJP said, “The kind of reception (party president) Amit Shah-ji has received from Church leaders (during his visit in June) has given positive signals.” BJP leaders assess that while Muslims in the state —26.56 per cent of the population —overwhelmingly back the Left parties, Christians, concerned about the global scenario, are likely to extend support to the party, especially as the Congress gradually weakens. “A large section of the community has realised that the Congress has no future — at least until 2024,” Muraleedharan said.
But it may not be easy for the BJP. Father Jimmy Poochakkatt, spokesperson for the Syro Malabar Church, said the meeting of the Bishops with Shah should not be read as political. “We will oppose BJP in many things, but we have respect for a party democratically elected to power. Our support will be issue-based,” he said.
Father Paul Thelakat, former spokesperson and editor of ‘Light of Truth’, a church publication, was more candid. Pointing out that there has been a “concerted attempt” by the saffron party to woo Christians, he said, “There is also the danger of taking an approach without considering small splinter groups of Christians in North India, especially in the Hindi belt, where they live under mortal threat of intimidation and muscle power of Sangh Parivar outfits.”
Alleging that the BJP was making India “a Hindu Pakistan”, Thelakat said, “As long as votes are cast, the Christian community should stand to defend democracy and civil rights of the people in general.