Kerala BJP resumes ‘Sneha Yatra’ ahead of Christmas to woo Christian votes with ‘message from PM’

Congress strongly criticised the BJP's initiative and said it was not 'Sneha yatra', the journey of love, but the 'kiss of Judas'.

BySouth First Desk

Published Dec 21, 2023 | 4:06 PMUpdatedDec 21, 2023 | 7:26 PM

Kerala BJP Sneha Yatra

With the Lok Sabha polls just months away, the BJP in Kerala resumed its “Sneha Yatra” — an outreach programme aimed at connecting with the Christian community in the state — on Thursday, 21 December.

The saffron party initially launched the programme during Easter this year.

In a recent state committee meeting, the party decided to resume the yatra during the Christmas season.

Kerala BJP chief K Surendran visited Cardinal George Alencherry, the former head of the prominent Syro Malabar Church, at St Thomas Mount in nearby Kakkanad in the morning and conveyed Christmas greetings from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He also visited Archbishop Joseph Kalathiparbil of the Latin Archdiocese of Verapoly, and conveyed the wishes of the Prime Minister.

Related: Kerala BJP leaders visit prominent bishops in Kerala for Easter

Beginning of ‘Sneha Yatra’

Surendran later said in a Facebook post that it marked the beginning of ‘Sneha Yatra’ in the state.

He also shared photos of his cordial meetings with the church heads.

However, the church authorities and the BJP leadership were yet to make clear the topics of discussion that came up during the closed-door meeting.

A BJP leader said the meeting with Alencherry was extended for over 45 minutes, and it was a warm and friendly meeting.

“It was a friendly meeting… The BJP chief conveyed Prime Minister Modi’s greetings to him. They later had breakfast together,” KS Shaiju, the party’s district president, told PTI.

When asked whether any political issues ahead of the Lok Sabha polls came up for discussion, the leader did not divulge any details.

“The objective of the visit was to convey the PM’s greetings,” he said.

‘Cordial relationship’

He also rejected media reports that there were differences between the Church and the saffron party after the Manipur violence issue.

“It was just a creation of the media. Both the BJP and the church have always maintained a cordial relationship,” he further said.

Though many senior bishops of various denominations have made pro-BJP statements on several occasions in the state in recent times, the alleged silence of the party-led Union government on the Manipur violence issue has reportedly created differences between the two.

The objective of the yatra is to bring the Christian community closer to the party, BJP sources said.

The party leaders and workers would visit Christian homes with the message from the Prime Minister till 30 December.

The party also recently decided to carry out ‘padayatras (foot marches)’ across the state with an eye on the Lok Sabha polls.

‘Kiss of Judas’

Meanwhile, the Congress party in the state on Thursday strongly criticised the BJP’s initiative to reach out to the Christian community and said it was not “sneha yatra”, the journey of love, but the “kiss of Judas”.

In a hard-hitting statement, KPCC chief K Sudhakaran alleged that Sangh Parivar only has a history of betraying minorities.

The BJP leaders who were visiting Christians ahead of Lok Sabha elections were not conducting “sneha yatra” but the kiss of Judas who betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty silver coins, he said.

While Sangh Parivar forces were unleashing violence against minorities in all parts of the country, they were showcasing a “special love” towards them in Kerala, he added.

Accusing the Prime Minister of continuing silence on the Manipur violence, Sudhakaran said the issue garnered national attention after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the affected areas of the northeastern state.

Manipur had become a strife zone after the BJP government came to power there in 2017, the Congress leader further alleged and said Kerala has many things to learn from the atrocities being reported there and in other parts of the country.

Related: Manipur violence leaves pro-BJP Christian leaders in Kerala miffed

The Easter visit

Senior BJP leaders in Kerala visited the homes of various prominent bishops in Kerala 9 April, on the occasion of Easter.

The move is being seen as a bid to forge close ties with the Christian community in the state as part of the BJP’s political strategy to woo minority communities ahead of the 2024 general elections.

While Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan visited the Archbishop of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Trivandrum Thomas J Netto, BJP national executive committee member PK Krishna Das met Thalassery Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplany in the Kannur district of the state.

Archbishop of Thalassery Mar Joseph Pamplany knows well that the BJP has been eyeing a share of the Christian votes.

Related: Will rubber politics bring Christians closer to BJP in Kerala?

The changing views of the priest

He made a promise to back the BJP in the Lok Sabha coming polls in 2024 if it increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for natural rubber to ₹300.

However, the Union government’s purported move to draft a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the unabated ethnic violence in Manipur seem to have thrown a spanner in the BJP’s efforts to woo the Christian minority in Kerala.

Mar Joseph Pamplany, likened the Manipur violence to the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

On 30 June, when South First reached out to him, he sounded a different note. He said his past statements supporting the BJP were blown out of proportion with a clear agenda to create a controversy and tarnish his image

Pamplany said he never supported the BJP-RSS, and the media distorted his statements supporting farmers to create an impression that he was pro-BJP.

“The people of Manipur have reasons to believe that the state and Union governments are protecting the forces that fuel the ethnic conflict. The governments must prove that they are not supporting the violence that targets Christians in that state,” he told South First.

The archbishop’s latest statement might have dashed the BJP’s hope of seeing the lotus blooming on rubber trees.

(With PTI inputs)