By most accounts of traditional political wisdom, Danie J Paul’s is an unlikely voice to defend the BJP in Kerala – a state where Christians remain largely unimpressed with the party.
“That the BJP is an anti-Christian party is a canard systematically spread by both the Congress and the Left. The saying that you cannot fool all the people all the time holds true for the Christian community in Kerala. They are seeing through their propaganda now,” claimed Paul, president of the BJP’s Minority Morcha in the state capital.
Kerala, which has over 4,500 RSS shakhas and over 70 active Hindu organisations, is yet to elect a BJP MLA. In an attempt to expand its catchment area in the upcoming assembly polls, the party is on an all-out mission to win at least two to three assembly seats from the 14 in Thiruvananthapuram district.
While the party’s chances of opening an account in the state is still up for debate, it is leaving no stone unturned to woo Christians – who constitute 19% of the state’s population. It is a calibrated strategy in which party’s central leadership is taking a keen interest.
BJP leaders from the state were in for a major shock when they rushed to New Delhi with a list of 22 candidates last week. Not only did the central leadership withhold the list, it also rebuked the leaders – including state president Kummanam Rajasekharan – for showing undue haste. Among the reasons cited for this was the failure of the state unit to take NDA allies along and its reluctance to zero in on independent candidates, especially from the Christian belt.
Desperate to open an account in the state, the party has been wooing various Christian groups in Kerala for some time now. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and bishops from Kerala have paid “courtesy calls” to each other, and a few church heads are said to have expressed their willingness to be a part of the NDA government’s flagship programmes.
Another attempt by the BJP to expand its voter base was seen in the party’s tie-up with the newly floated Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, an outfit of backward Ezhavas.
A series of meetings held between Union ministers with church leaders over the last two months was aimed at bridging the gap with the Christian community. A BJP leader said on the condition of anonymity: “Many bishops from the state have had a good equation with Modi since his days as the Gujarat chief minister. He was attentive to the needs of the community in that state.”
However, winning the community’s support will be no easy task for the party. Christians and Muslims remain the mainstay of the Congress vote bank in the state.
“There has been no larger consensus on Modi yet,” said a priest, pointing out that the Catholic Bishops Conference of India had expressed reservations over being portrayed as the co-host of a seminar attended by the Prime Minister last year. The National Seminar of Religious Witnessing was held in the capital on February 17, 2015, to celebrate the sainthood awarded to Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia.
The party had initially tried to woo the Kerala Congress (Mani), a predominantly Christian political outfit, but backed out when its chairman – state finance minister KM Mani – resigned after getting embroiled in a bribery case. The RSS’ bid to float a Christian outfit on the lines of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch also failed to take off.
However, the BJP has been sending feelers to the church regularly. After Modi met archbishop Mar George Alancherry in Kochi last December, a number of Union ministers – including Sadananda Gowda – also held meetings with various bishops.
The fact that the BJP improved its tally in the Christian belt – including regions such as Ernakulam and Kottayam – in the last local body and Lok Sabha elections has spurred its efforts to garner Christian support. Though the community traditionally supports the Congress, many of its members are reportedly upset with the party for failing to back their agitations against the Gadgil and Kasturirangan expert committee reports on the ‘ecologically fragile’ Western Ghats.
“We will go the extra mile to build mutual trust and cooperation with the Christian community,” said Rajasekharan. Mar Thoma metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma had inaugurated a public reception for Rajasekharan after he became the party’s state president on December 18 last year.