File image of BJP supporters during a political rally in January 2020 (Image: PTI)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now working to grow its support base in Kerala by wooing the poll-bound state’s Christian community. In recent months, the party has taken steps to foster its growth in southern states like Telangana and Tamil Nadu.
The saffron party is hoping to capitalise on the increasing disenchantment among Kerala’s Christian leaders over growing influence of Muslims in the Indian National Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Kerala is expected to head for Legislative Assembly elections in April-May 2021 along with Assam, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry.
The UDF and the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) have dominated Kerala’s political sphere since at least 1980, with the power swinging between the two sides almost every five years. LDF has governed the state since 2016. However, Congress-led UDF had won 19 out of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the Church and a section of community leaders in Kerala, who were leaning towards the UDF in terms of their political choices, have been uneasy over the growing influence of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) within the opposition alliance.
The BJP, which has had minimal political presence in Kerala so far, is hoping to attract Christian voters while trying to consolidate its support among Hindu voters.
“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,” a BJP general secretary told the newspaper.
The news report also suggested, citing sources, that Church leaders are expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi with their grievances, including concerns about “increasing number of Christian girls lured by Muslim boys” in the state’s version of “love jihad” and Muslim students availing more than 80 percent of the minority scholarships.
The term “love jihad” has been used by right-wing groups opposing what they say are "forced" inter-faith marriages. It is frequently used by Hindutva organisations to allege a conspiracy by Muslim men to marry women from other religions mainly to convert them to Islam.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF is also trying to woo Christian voters in a bid to offset loss of support among the state’s Hindus over its stand on the Sabarimala issue.
The state government had recently moved to implement 10 percent reservation in government jobs for the economically weaker section (EWS) among forward communities. This was seen as an attempt to woo Christians away from the UDF. Reports suggest that church leaders had supported this initiative.