Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent claim, that a coalition involving his party would come to power in Kerala, has once again brought into focus the Sangh Parivar’s agenda to make inroads into the state by winning the confidence of the powerful Christian community.
Non-BJP political parties in Kerala are taking strong exception to Modi’s claim, that an alliance would capture power in Kerala soon, as was the case in Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Goa.
While Muslims constitute 26.6 percent of Kerala’s demography, that number for Christians in the state is 18.38 percent.
As they together make up around half of the state’s population, the only way left before the Sangh Parivar is to work out an alliance with Church leaders and regional political forces that enjoy the blessings of bishops and priests.
What emboldens the BJP
And what makes the BJP hopeful about such an arrangement in Kerala is the growing Islamophobia among a sizeable section of Christians, who raise the bogey of Love Jihad along with Hindutva proponents.
The party has also high hopes of the Christian Association and Alliance for Social Change (CASA), a youth organisation that strongly aligns with the BJP-RSS in a hate campaign targeting Muslims.
Besides raising the Love Jihad bogey, CASA shares the Sangh Parivar’s opinion on the Citizenship Amendment Act, the hijab Issue, triple talaq, and halal food.
It claims it has lakhs of members from 17 different Christian denominations in Kerala.
In the long run, the BJP is hoping to enter into alliances with the Kerala Congress (M), a Christian majority regional outfit that is currently a part of the ruling LDF, and its breakaway faction, the Kerala Congress (J), which is a constituent of the Opposition UDF.
The BJP hopes that it can easily consolidate the Nair and Ezhava community groups in its favour once it works out a powersharing formula with the Christian interest groups and political parties.
The ground reality among Kerala Christians
Even as it nurtures such high hopes, what makes the BJP-RSS cautious is the poor clout religious leaders enjoy over their masses in Kerala, especially on political affiliation and choices.
Christians rarely go by the political preferences of the Church leadership, and it’s almost the same in the case of Nairs and Ezhavas.
In the case of the CPI(M) and the CPI, which head the LDF, and the Congress, which leads the UDF, support bases are almost intact and spread among people of different religious and caste groups.
Irrespective of religious affiliations, Kerala has a huge number of people who value politics and electioneering beyond caste and communal grounds.
And above all, the last Assembly election witnessed BJP losing the sole Assembly segment of Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, with which it opened its account in Kerala for the first time.
The demography of Kerala Christians
While Goa, Meghalaya, and Nagaland have sizeable Christian populations, observers say it would be difficult for the BJP to capture en masse the different denominations in Kerala.
Among the Christians in Kerala, 70.73 percent are from the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara Catholic, Malankara Orthodox Syrian, Jacobite Syrian Christian, CSI Syrian Christians, Mar Thoma Syrian, St Thomas Evangelical Church of India, Chaldean Syrian, or Malabar Independent Syrian churches.
Most of them claim to be converted from upper-caste Hindu Brahmins and Nairs.
Though some sections among them consider “Love Jihad” a reality, and urge the believers to be on vigil against Muslim men allegedly luring away their girls by faking love, there is no guarantee of the whole denomination extending support to the BJP.
Meanwhile, Latin Catholics, who form around 13.3 percent of the Christian population, do not not raise allegations of Love Jihad.
They are believed to be the descendants of Scheduled Caste and fishermen communities, who had converted to Christianity during the colonial period.
Pentecostals, Church of South India (CSI), and other Protestant groups such as Lutherans and Calvinists form 5.9 percent of the Christian population in Kerala, but they mostly remain neutral on political matters and preferences.
But there are several bishops and priests who are not opposed to the BJP-RSS. They feel that getting closer to the Narendra Modi government by snapping all ties with secular parties and formations would benefit them.
The political kaleidoscope
“As gradually the lies of our rivals are exposed, the BJP will expand… I am sure in the coming years, as it has happened in Meghalaya and Nagaland and has been happening in Goa, the BJP’s alliance will form a government in Kerala,” said Modi while addressing party leaders in New Delhi.
Senior CPI(M) leader and its Politburo member MA Baby said Modi should remember that his party lost the only seat it ever had in the Kerala Assembly in the 2021 state elections, and that he must have some practical sense while making tall claims.
“The prime minister is entitled to daydream, but he should remember that the only seat the BJP had in the state legislature has been lost. That sole seat was wrested by the Left Front in the last election and the BJP in Kerala is now in a deplorable condition,” he told South First.
Senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the Assembly VD Satheesan also spoke along similar lines when he said that the BJP would never come to power in Kerala as the people here would “unite against the fascist and feudal movements”.
“It (the BJP coming to power) will never happen in Kerala. There is no space for the BJP here. There will be no space, as the people of the state will never allow any communal forces here,” Satheesan told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
“The Congress and the UDF are at the forefront to prevent the BJP. We have already declared that we will do wherever possible to prevent the communal and fascist forces. We will constitute an open platform of the anti-BJP and anti-communal forces,” he added.
Congress-ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) senior leader MK Muneer said that Modi was “not conscious of the ground reality in Kerala”, but “he can dream”.
“From 1957 onwards, it has been either the LDF or the UDF in power. Communal forces tried to creep into Kerala politics many times, but the people kept them away. That is because people here are literate, aware, and politicised,” he told reporters.
Muneer said that the prime minister was entitled to dream, “but it will not be fruitful”.
“He thinks Kerala will fall into the hands of the NDA, like other states. That is not going to happen here. He is taking it lightly,” the IUML leader added.
He said that all majority and minority religious groups and communities in the state would prevent the BJP from getting a foothold in Kerala.
“They will not give the BJP even an inch of space. We are very confident about that,” he added.
Interestingly, no Christian leader in Kerala has supported Modi’s claim so far.
“Such claims by Modi would be beneficial to the secular politics of the state. Leaders of secular fronts would remain vigilant and avoid instances of destabilising the larger unity of secular and liberal forces,” political observer MN Karassery told South First.
(With inputs from PTI)