Lal Krishan Advani, the veteran leader who converted a passive Bharatiya Janata Party into an aggressive and abrasive political outfit, once moaned about the BJP not ‘growing proportionately’ with Indian National Congress’ decline.
The basic reason was that the party did not appeal to non-Hindutva voters across the country. Voters with Hindutva outlook were concentrated in the Hindi heartland and Western India and so the BJP failed to grow in South, East and North-East of the country.
But finally, BJP seems to be on its way to establish a pan-Indian presence. It has captured Assam, installed defectors’ governments in Nagaland, Arunachal and Manipur and was confident of winning Meghalaya and Tripura too until the cow jumped on to its path. The party has started challenging Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and in neighbouring Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal has never felt so threatened since its inception almost a quarter century ago.
Andhra Pradesh was gifted by dumb policy makers in the Congress to its rivals. As if allowing Andhra strongman YSR Reddy’s son to break away was not enough, the Congress leadership decided to split the state and donate it to TDP and TRS, now competing to show loyalty to the BJP, which stridently makes forays into the state. Karnataka had shown early signs of being influenced by thoughts and politics of Western India. With the death of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, the BJP has started playing games in Tamil Nadu too, although its effectiveness still remains to be electorally tested.
Kerala, however, has remained an enigma for the BJP. On the one hand, the state has the most vibrant and active unit of the RSS, but on the other, the party in the 65 years of electoral history has been able to win just a single assembly seat here, that too by a narrow margin.
In other areas, an RSS worker is known for his regressive moral preaching, morning exercises in the park and campaigning at the grassroots for BJP during election time, when Hindutva matters and canards about rival parties are effectively conveyed to gullible voters. However, in Kerala, the RSS is an extremist organisation linked to violence, to which youth are attracted when they have a score to settle with someone or require protection from gangs or parties that threaten to eliminate them.
Social media trolls may tell you on the number of RSS workers hacked to death in Kannur but statistically more CPM workers have been murdered. CPM is not known that much for its violence outside Kannur, while the image of an RSS worker in Kerala is that of a militant. Apart from the BJP and RSS cadres, no one from any caste or religion would hence want to vote for the BJP that represents people with such an image. This is the most important reason why the party has not been able to increase its vote share to a critical level to win seats.
In the last experiment in 2016, BJP formed a huge alliance that included groups that claimed to represent the numerically strong Ezhavas, apart from Nairs and Tribals, among others. However, apart from winning BJP its first legislator in Kerala, the alliance failed miserably.
It is in this context one has to see Amit Shah’s recent audience with spiritual leaders of the Christian community. The BJP plan is to rope in the Christian community by tempting them with the fishes and loaves of office, as they have done in Goa. News reports said that Shah was happy with his meeting with two cardinals and 4 bishops of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and representatives of various churches from different Christian denominations.
Earlier, the BJP tried to woo the ‘pro-Catholic’ Kerala Congress but now it wants to directly deal with the Bishops. For the record, KCBC President Soosa Pakiam has said “we did not discuss politics. We had a friendly discussion on minorities and their rights. He said the government is 100% committed to protecting constitutional rights of minorities.” He added “we deal with openness,” whoever visits our home.
The KCBC and spiritual leaders of other Christian groups should realise that there is no place for religion in politics. If secular parties are to effectively fight those who engage in majority communalism, they should not face charges of overlooking minority communalism. Spiritual leaders should be cautious to keep away from politics of all kinds so that they are not accused of being minority communalists.
Kerala is not similar to erstwhile Eastern Europe or Central or South American nations that faced dictators. As a cardinal, and later as the Pope, John Paul II encouraged the people to rise against the repressive dummy Soviet regime in Poland. Oscar Romero and lesser-known bishops and priests risked their lives or were martyred for protecting basic rights of people in Latin America too.
These were exceptional circumstances when opposition parties were pulverised. When there is a political vacuum and lack of democracy, it may be the moral duty of church leaders to encourage them to stand up against dictatorship. But India is a multi-party democracy and several Opposition parties are still in power in several states. The Opposition still commands the majority in the Rajya Sabha too. There is no Emergency that has curtailed the power of those opposing the Government. The only thing we have is voluntary press censorship mainly because media barons live in glass houses and fear raids from government agencies.
Christian spiritual leaders should avoid the temptation of dabbling in politics. They should also keep away from charlatans who claim to be close to powers that be. One such character — a ‘literacy missionary’ turned anti-corruption crusader turned defector politician — has been trying to demonstrate his utility to BJP. He is said to have spread fear among the shepherds that the Centre’s economic offences departments were ready to target Christian institutions and showing support to BJP would help. Do not fall prey to such traps, while ensuring that account books of each Christian institution are clean.
Leave politics to politicians. It is not the job of spiritual leaders to issue statements on governments’ policy on education, liquor, animals or anything else. There is no need for any bishop to meet a Pinarayi Vijayan or a K M Mani or an Oommen Chandy or an Amit Shah in the community’s name.
( firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 26th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 26)