In April 2016, ahead of the Kerala Assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), attempting to woo minorities—which make up 46 percent of the state—adopted a soft Hindutva line.
The party expected to win at least a dozen seats with the help of its Hindu allies, but it ended up with just one seat in the 140-member Assembly. With its game plan not yielding the desired result, the BJP is now trying to replicate the North Indian model of hard Hindutva to “conquer” Kerala.
BJP president Amit Shah will kick off the grand plan today when he flags off the Janaraksha Yatra led by BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan, at Payyannur in the northern district of Kasargod.
The party has made its intentions clear by selecting ‘red-jihadi terror’ as its slogan for the 15-day march, which will culminate in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram on 17 October.
Political analysts view the BJP slogan as part of a larger game plan: To divide the people on communal lines, a strategy which reaped huge dividends for it in the northern and western parts of the country. NP Chekutty, a senior journalist based in Kozhikode, said the party was attempting to turn Hindus and Christians against Muslims, who view the BJP as a threat.
“Hindus have been nursing a grudge against minorities they feel were reaping socio-economic benefits because of their political clout. Having failed to cash in on this anti-minority sentiment, the BJP is now trying to create fear in the minds of the majority community and emerge as their protector,” he said.
Chekutty told Firstpost the BJP may also be taking into account the growing concern among Hindus and Christians against ‘love jihad’. The BJP believes that Muslim organisations are promoting this concept and that it would work in its favour, Chekutty said.
However, Chekutty does not think that the BJP’s attempt to divide the people on communal lines will succeed. He said different communities have been living in harmony because the strong social and economic relationships between them go back centuries.
“Majority of the Hindus in Kerala have rejected the BJP call for Hindu unity under its banner because of these historic links. Though a social organisation of a numerically strong Hindu community embraced BJP by floating a political party, the members of the community have refused to shift their traditional political affiliations,” he said.
The BJP is likely to lose the support of even the Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), the political arm of the Ezhava community, which accounts for 50 percent of the Hindu population in Kerala. The BDJS feels neglected by the BJP's national leadership and their frustration with the party is growing.
It is unclear whether or not the BDJS will join the Janaraksha Yatra. The party was not involved in the yatra's preparations. Though Amit Shah met BDJS chief Thushar Vellappally and attempted to smooth things over, the BDJS is still undecided.
With regard to the BJP campaign against the CPM's "violent" politics, analysts think that this may not succeed because the people of Kerala think that the Sangh Parivar is equally at fault. Chekutty said the BJP may be using this campaign to distract the people from the Modi government's failures and energise its rank and file for upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The BJP national leadership has set a target of winning 12 seats in Kerala during the Lok Sabha election. Political observers consider this too tall a task—especially in a state where the BJP has not won even a single seat in the Lok Sabha since it entered the electoral fray in the mid-1980s.
The BJP is aware that it cannot achieve this target with conventional methods. Hence, the party is attempting the hard Hindutva line instead of the soft line, which aimed at bringing minorities into the fold.
But the BJP can't win elections on the strength of Hindu voters alone. The party is not attempting to get the support of Muslims, who account for 28 percent of the population. The game plan, therefore, is to woo Christians. The BJP has put this plan into action by elevating bureaucrat-turned-politician Alphons Kannanthanam as a junior minister with independent charge of tourism.
Kannanthanam spent a week in Kerala meeting religious heads and spiritual leaders after he took office. The Christian leaders he met included: Syro-Malankara Catholic Church head and president of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos, Latin Arch Diocese of Trivandrum archbishop Dr Soosa Pakiam M and Kanjirapally Syro-Malabar Church bishop Mathew Arackkal.
Kannanthanam wasn't just trying to win the prelates confidence, but was also trying to win their support to bring the pro-Christian Kerala Congress (M) within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold. The party, which has a strong base in the Christian belt, has been staying independent after it quit the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the wake of the Assembly election.
The BJP, which held several rounds of informal talks with the Kerala Congress (M), feels that the party may join the NDA if church leaders support such a move. There were reports that the party had considered an alliance with the BJP after it quit the UDF but dropped the plan due to opposition from the bishops. The BJP appointed Kannanthanam to be a bridge to the Christian community.
Kannanthanam played a key role in bringing together senior bishops to meet Shah during his Kerala visit in June. However, the Church is not enthusiastic about Kannanthanam's elevation. Father Paul Thelekkat, former spokesman of Syro-Malabar Church, said that the church could not view Kannanthanam as a Christian leader as he had ceased being a Christian after he embraced the BJP.
Shah, who has Kerala at the top of his agenda, trusts Kannanthanam, who will be participating in the yatra. Shah has taken a personal interest in the march, which has been postponed twice to accommodate him. Besides flagging off the march today, Shah will be joining it on 5 October and 17 October.
On day three of the march, Shah will walk alongside party workers from Mambaram to Thalaserry. The march will pass through Pinarayi—the home town of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan—where three political killings took place in just two days after the LDF government led by Vijayan took power in May 2016.
Towards the end of the yatra, Shah will join the march at Sreekaryam, the scene of another brutal political murder. A host of several other senior central leaders and Union ministers will also join the 15-day march at different places.
The ministers joining the march include Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh.
The CPM is viewing Shah's personal interest in the yatra with scepticism. Senior leaders alleged that the BJP chief was visiting Kerala to create ‘trouble’. CPM Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan said Shah should first organise a march in the BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, where the law and order issues are much more of a problem.
“Kerala is known for its secular and democratic credentials. The BJP is trying to destroy this reputation,” Jayarajan added.
Published Date: Oct 03, 2017 11:42 AM | Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 12:03 PM