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BJP looks to grow Kerala base with Christian outreach drive

The Church and a section of community leaders in Kerala, so far lenient towards the Congress-led UDF in their political choices, have been uneasy over the increasing influence of the Indian Union Muslim League in the Congress-led UDF.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: December 14, 2020 3:56:37 pm
Bengal MP Sunil Mondal, who joined BJP, faces protests in KolkataThe party said some its workers were injured in the attack.(File photo)

After successfully launching the first leg of its campaign in Telangana and beginning the ground work in Tamil Nadu, the BJP now wants to embark on its ambitious electoral project in Kerala – wooing the Christian community. While its attempts in the past had not yielded much results, the party now wants to capitalise the increasing disenchantment among the Christian leaders over the growing influence of Muslims in the Congress-led UDF in Kerala.

Sources said Church leaders are expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon with their grievances, including concerns about Muslim students availing over 80 per cent of the minority scholarships and the “increasing number of Christian girls lured by Muslim boys” in the Kerala version of “love jihad”.

The Church leaders’ keenness in exploring the BJP’s support in these issues was evident in the presence of Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, at a function on Friday in Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram, where Governor Arif Mohammad Khan handed him a copy of ‘Justice for All, Prejudice to None’ — a book written by Mizoram Governor and former BJP Kerala unit president S Sreedharan Pillai on various communities in Mizoram and Kerala.

In November, Pillai was invited by the Church leaders for a dinner meeting to discuss the “complaints” from the community over a series of issues, and sources said he had then agreed to convey the grievances to the Prime Minister. According to sources, the Church leaders are expected to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention in the “injustice” meted out to the Christian community in the state.

“The church leaders have already conveyed to the BJP leadership its resentment over the distribution of the scholarships for the minority students. Going by the population, it should get 40 per cent of the scholarship, but it gets only half of it. They feel justice is denied,” said a BJP leader from Kerala.

Explained

Why BJP is looking at Christian votes

The BJP faces a peculiar situation in Kerala where over 40 per cent of the state’s population consists of religious minorities. With Hindu votes divided between the CPI-M-led LDF, Congress-led UDF, and the BJP, the saffron party can’t rely solely on Hindu consolidation and needs to woo either one of the two largest minority groups -- Muslim and Christians -- to win elections. The latter seems to be an easier choice for the BJP after failing to attract Muslim votes, and a section of the Christian leadership now voicing concerns such as ‘love jihad’ and possibililty of demographic change.

The leaders have also cited a study to convey their concerns over a possible decline in the community populations. According to the study by professor K C Zachariah of the Centre for Development Studies, by 2050, Muslims will form 35 per cent of the state’s population while the Christians will be reduced to half of the Muslim population.

The Church and a section of community leaders in Kerala, so far lenient towards the Congress-led UDF in their political choices, have been uneasy over the increasing influence of the Indian Union Muslim League in the Congress-led UDF. Even the CPI-M-led LDF’s recent move to implement 10 per cent reservation in government jobs for the economically weaker section (EWS) among forward communities was seen as an attempt to woo the Christians away from the Congress — church leaders had publicly lauded the move, advantageous to the community.

The CPI-M, which has seen erosion of its support base among Hindus over its stand on the Sabarimala row, is keen on compensating for that lost ground by wooing a section of Christians and Muslims who view the Left as the force that can stop the BJP from spreading its wings in Kerala. The CPI-M has recently welcomed the Kerala Congress (Mani), a state party considered to be backed by the Christian community, into the LDF. The move could dent the UDF support base in the pockets – in the central and northern parts – where the community backs the KCM.

The BJP is also eyeing the same — it wants to attract Christian votes while consolidating its Hindu support base. “Support of Christian community is very crucial for the growth of the BJP in the state. In the past, our efforts to get some regional parties to the fold could not succeed. We have to adopt fresh tactics to get support from the community. Our feedback is that the community is not unwilling to back the BJP,” said a general secretary of the BJP.

Recent elections in the state have not given any indications that the community’s voting preferences were heavily influenced by the Church leaders.

In the ongoing local body elections, the BJP, which had made considerable gains in the 2015 elections, has fielded around 500 Christian candidates for panchayats, municipalities and corporations.

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