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BJP's use of Sri Lanka suicide blasts to send out anti-terror message, win over Kerala's Christian voters has few takers

After using the Sabarimala temple issue for a Hindu consolidation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have grabbed the topic of Sri Lankan suicide bomb attacks in churches and hotels on Easter Sunday to make inroads into the Christian community in the southern state of Kerala.

The saffron party has sought to don the role of the saviour of Christians in the state by mooting a Christian collective against global terror. The forum being established under the minority wing of the party will be formally launched with a day-long fast and prayer at Mother Teresa Square in Kochi on the 40th day of the massacre on 29 May.

The 40th day of death is considered significant by Christians as they believe that the dead begin their heavenly journey on that day, which marks the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. State BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai said that the function was being organised in accordance with Christian tradition.

Bharatiya Janata Minority Morcha president Noble Mathew said that the organisation had decided to launch the collective in Kerala since the perpetrators of the Sri Lankan attacks had links with sympathisers of the Islamic State (IS) in the state. He claimed that the party had no hidden political agenda behind the initiative.

 BJPs use of Sri Lanka suicide blasts to send out anti-terror message, win over Keralas Christian voters has few takers

The roof and interior of the St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Negambo, were blown up in the explosion on Sunday. A Gamage/101Reporters

However, political observers are not ready to believe the claim since the BJP and the Sangh Parivar had made maximum use of the 28 September Supreme Court verdict allowing entry to women of all ages in the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala to polarise the Hindu votes. The state leadership of the party had viewed the Sabarimala issue as a golden opportunity to unite Hindus under the party banner.

NP Chekutty, a Left-leaning political analyst at Kozhikode, said the BJP was trying to woo the Christians, who account for over 18 percent of the state's population, as it had realised that the Sabarimala issue had not helped the party win the support of the Hindus. Moreover, the party also realises that it will not be able to make any electoral breakthrough in the state with the support of Hindus alone, he added.

"The BJP needs the support of the minorities who constitute nearly 46 percent of the state's population to win elections. The party is not expecting much support from the Muslim community since it has alienated them by taking a strident anti-Muslim stand at the national level. Hence, the party is now making an all-out effort to win over the Christians," felt Chekutty.

He has termed the move to float a communal collective against terror dangerous since it will result in turning the Christians against the Muslims, who have been living in harmony with the rest of the community in the state for several centuries. Chekutty said the new move is part of the divisive politics that BJP has been playing in the north to gain political mileage.

"This will not work in a state like Kerala, where people are more educated, secular and politically enlightened. The BJP can win over people in the state only with a positive agenda. Unfortunately, the party is continuing with the politics of division, which will not pay any political dividend to the BJP in the state in the near future," says Chekutty.

The party has been trying to seek the support of the Christians by engaging with the spiritual leaders of the community. When that failed to yield the desired result, the party sought to achieve its objective by roping in prominent Christian leaders into the party fold and promoting them with positions in the government and the party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inducted bureaucrat-turned politician Alphons Kannanthanam, the prominent Christian face in the BJP, into his ministry under this strategy. However, he could not draw many other Christians into the BJP ranks.

The BJP had also used the Sabarimala issue to win over the believers in the Christian community, but it had to contend with the support of a leader with a small pocket of influence in the state. In fact, Janapaksham leader PC George had aligned with the National Democratic Alliance after his attempt to get an entry into either of the two fronts led by the Congress and the Communist Party failed.

The Sri Lankan attacks came at a time when the party was searching for a strong issue to attract the Christians before the Assembly elections due in 2021 in order to fulfil party president Amit Shah's grand plan to 'do a Tripura' in Kerala.

The BJP thinks that the terror threat can do the magic since Christians in the state are concerned over reports that a follower of the Sri Lankan blasts mastermind arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Palakkad had planned similar strikes in the state.

Leaders of the Christian community think it is a false notion of the BJP that it can win over the community with political gimmicks. M Vincent, a Congress MLA from Kovalam, said that Christians were not fools to miss the political agenda of the party. He wondered how the party that challenges the safeguards offered by the Constitution to the minorities can protect the Christians.

"The minorities have not forgotten the cold-blooded murder of Graham Staines and his sons by a Sangh Parivar activist in Odisha and a series of attacks on churches and members of the clergy in various parts of the country under the BJP dispensation. The Christians do not need the protection of the Sangh Parivar. They only want the protection of their rights guaranteed by the Constitution," said Vincent.

Dr Chacko Kalanparmpil, a prominent Catholic leader, agreed with Vincent. He said that the community does not consider the protection of a political party against terror desirable. He said that it was the government that had to protect the citizens from threats to their lives and properties.

Chacko said that the Church will not associate with the BJP initiative. He said there was no need for a Christian collective against terror in the state as both the Christians and Muslims in the state have been maintaining cordial relations.

Interestingly, a leading Islamic organisation had joined the Catholic Church of India in condemning the suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. A joint statement issued by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and Maulana Mahmood A Madani, the general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, had even announced a plan to send an inter-faith delegation as a gesture of their condolence and solidarity with the victims.

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Updated Date: May 12, 2019 14:59:26 IST