Thiruvananthapuram: The raging fire in Manipur has dimmed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) plans to build bridges with the Christian community in down south Kerala.
Leaders of mainstream church denominations, who had a few months back responded positively to signals from the BJP leadership, have been unequivocal in voicing their deep anguish and frustration over the failure of the central and state governments to restore peace in Manipur.
A feeling is strong in church establishments that tribal Christians are at the receiving end of the violence in Manipur.
Arch Bishop Mar Joseph Pamplany of Thalassery
Brimming with confidence infused by the party’s breakthrough in assembly polls in the north-east earlier this year, Kerala’s ever-desperate BJP leadership honed a plan to warm up to the electorally crucial Christian community in Kerala.
The party also received a glimmer of hope as a senior Catholic bishop stated that there was no reason why the Christians should shy away from the BJP if supporting that party served their interests. Arch Bishop Mar Joseph Pamplany of Thalassery Arch Diocese had qualified the offer with a caveat that the community could think of backing the BJP in elections if the Centre took measures to scale up the falling prices of natural rubber.
Large sections of Christian families in rural stretches across the state eke out a living by growing rubber and an assortment of commercial crops in their small farm holdings. The steadily sliding price of rubber and other commodities is a threat to their livelihood.
The BJP’s state leadership lapped up the bishop’s statement like ‘manna in the wilderness,’ piously wishing that a promising trail has been blazed before the party to make an electoral breakthrough in the state.
The party also received a vicarious sense of triumph when Congress stalwart A K Antony’s son Anil Antony joined the BJP.
The BJP state leadership, which has earned a reputation for lack of imagination and political sagacity, took these developments as the beginning of a process.
Taking the process forward the party leaders soon started calling on senior bishops of various church denominations. Though visitors were received by the prelates with an utmost curtsey, they could not wrest any assurance whatsoever that would make the party’s electoral prospects a shade rosier.
The staggered violence in Manipur has seriously hampered the saffron party’s confidence-building exercise with the Christian establishments in the electorally jinxed state, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls early next year.
Interestingly, it was bishop Pamplany himself to first lashed out at the BJP over violence and arson in Manipur.
This was followed by Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) castigating the BJP’s top brass. The bishop’s forum, which enjoys considerable clout over the community, alleged that Christians belonging to various tribes in Manipur have been the prime target of violence, besides vandalizing and burning scores of community institutions. All these happened, KCBC alleged, while the Centre and the state administrations remained a mute witnesses. The bishops’ forum has called upon the community to come out expressing solidarity with the ‘suffering people’ of Manipur.
Heads of non-Catholic churches have also expressed serious concern over the Manipur clashes.
The BJP’s Christian outreach in Kerala is borne out by the fact that it would be well neigh impossible for the party to win elections by entirely banking on the Hindus.
Kerala’s political and demographic metrics are heavily loaded against achieving a breakthrough soon. Muslim and Christian communities together account for close to 50 percent of Kerala’s population. The Hindu community is deeply divided in the state, whose political affiliations are mostly with the CPI(M) and the Congress.
As expected, Congress and the CPI (M) have seized on the Manipur violence to run down the BJP to deter the Christian community from any engagement with the saffron party.
Since its national ascendance under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has weaned away a good chunk of Hindus from other parties. But that constituency is too inadequate to make an electoral breakthrough. It was in this helpless scenario, the party started to search for allies beyond its core constituency.