Indicating in unequivocal terms how crucial the votes of Christians in Kerala were for the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exuded confidence that the state would accept saffron the party in the coming days the same way North-Eastern states and Goa — with significant Christian populations — voted it to power.
Addressing a youth conclave at Thevara in the heart of Kochi, Modi pitched for a BJP government in Kerala and said it would be a reality very soon.
This came after an impressive roadshow, in which the prime minister moved out of the official vehicle and walked on the road, accepting floral greetings from the people,
By pointing to a BJP victory in Goa and the North-East, Modi conveyed that the party’s growth in Kerala depended largely on the state’s Christians.
The prime minister is in the state on a two-day visit when the BJP is making an all-out bid to expand its support base by taking Christians of the state into confidence ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Though there were indications that the much-hyped Youth Conclave would facilitate interaction between the prime minister and selected youths of the state representing various walks of life, it ended up as an event dominated by a powerful political speech by Modi that left no space for questions and answers.
In his speech, Modi was scathing in his attacks on Kerala’s ruling CPI(M) and the Congress in the Opposition.
The event was followed by a closed-door meeting between the prime minister and bishops representing eight denominations of Christian churches in Kerala.
The meeting lasted hardly 20 minutes, and Kerala BJP president K Surendran and vice-president AN Radhakrishnan attended it.
At the end of the meeting, the bishops refused to disclose any details to reporters.
Surendran said the interactions were fruitful, and the topic of discussion was the state’s overall growth.
Discussions on ‘burning issues’
However, a statement issued before the meeting by the Latin Catholic archdiocese of Verapoly in Kochi said that its bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil would raise certain burning issues — including the large-scale violence unleashed by Sangh Parivar affiliates on Christians outside Kerala — before the prime minister.
The archdiocese also said the bishop would raise the issue of vulnerable living conditions of fish workers and other coastal communities in Kerala.
The Church has reservations over how the CPI(M)-led state government and the BJP-led Union government promote corporate major Adani’s interests at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram, where an international seaport is coming up in a public-private partnership.
The Christian delegation that met Modi also included Syro-Malabar church major archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, Malankara Orthodox church head Catholicos Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews-III, Syro Malankara Church head Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, Jacobite Church metropolitan trustee Joseph Mar Gregorious, Knanaya Church head Mar Mathew Moolakkatt, Knanaya metropolitan Kuriakose Mar Severios, and Chaldean Syrian church Head Mar Awgin Kuriakose.
It is not known whether these bishops raised the issue of plummeting natural rubber prices at the meeting with Modi.
Some bishops in Kerala earlier courted controversy by saying Christians would vote for the BJP if the Union government ensured ₹300 per kilogram as a support price for natural rubber — grown on plantations largely owned by Catholics in central Kerala.
The youth conclave
“On the one hand, the BJP government is toiling day and night to increase exports and distribute Kerala’s traditional medicines worldwide. On the other hand, a few people are playing a different game. They are toiling to smuggle gold,” said Modi in the Youth Conclave in an apparent reference to ruling CPI(M), whose leaders are accused of abetting gold smuggling from Gulf countries.
“Kerala’s youths failed to get opportunities in the past because of the struggles between two ideologies. One ideology places its party above the state’s interests while the other ideology places a particular family above everything,” said Modi, attacking the CPI(M) and the Congress.
“The focus of BJP-ruled states is providing jobs to youths while the Kerala government is failing miserably in that area,” he charged.
Though the roadshow attracted huge public participation, with even Christian churches showering flowers on Modi, the conclave failed to ensure any surprise presence from different walks of life.
BJP-affiliated film stars Suresh Gopi and Unni Mukundan, singer Vijay Yesudas, and actresses Aparna Balamurali and Navya Nair were among the VIPs who attended the conclave.
Prominent among the political leaders were Anil Antony, son of Congress veteran AK Antony who recently joined BJP, Karnataka MP Tejasvi Surya, and Union minister V Muraleedharan.
Anil Antony, who addressed the meeting ahead of Modi, said Kerala was failing in all walks of life while BJP-ruled states were gaining on many fronts.
After 5 pm, Modi landed at the naval air station in Kochi and commenced his road show from there.
Dressed in traditional Kerala attire, Modi initially began the roadshow on foot and waved to the people on both sides along the route, under a tight security net, with thousands of police personnel deployed to ensure the prime minister’s safety.
People of all age groups from various parts of the state were lined up on both sides of the road hours in advance to welcome Modi and shower him with flowers.
The youth conclave was held on the Sacred Heart College of Catholic Church campus in Thevara.
On Tuesday morning, Modi is expected to travel to Thiruvananthapuram to inaugurate the services of the Thiruvananthapuram-Kasargod Vande Bharat Express.
He is also expected to launch some other developmental ventures on occasion, including South Asia’s first water metro.