UCC adds to BJP’s cup of woes in Kerala amid infighting in state unit & church anger over Manipur


New Delhi: The row over Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is the latest entrant in the list of hurdles for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala where it has been trying to set its house in order and to make headway in the run-up to the 2024 general election.

The party has been beset with one issue after another, ranging from the infighting in its state unit that led to the removal of senior leader M. Ganeshan to the negative perception surrounding the ethnic clash in Manipur.

The Centre’s push to the UCC has now undone the goodwill the BJP had earned among the Christians through its outreach in the southern state. 

BJP Kerala vice-president K.S. Radhakrishnan informed that the state unit has stopped its outreach to the community over the civil code as “the central leadership has told us to wait”. “Once, the Law Commission report comes out (with the report), then only we will start our outreach after knowing the draft contents,” he told ThePrint.

Minorities constitute a significant population of Kerala, with the Muslims and the Christians comprising 26 percent and 18 percent. 

In 2022, the BJP high command appointed former union minister Prakash Javadekar as incharge of state with the target of winning five — Attingal, Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram, Palakkad, and Pathanamthitta — out of the total 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2024. 

Currently, it has no representative in the Lok Sabha from the southern state. In the 2021 Kerala election, the BJP lost the only seat of Nemom it had won in 2016.

Infighting in the state, meanwhile, continues especially after K. Surendran was made the state president in 2020. Surendran and his deputy Sobha Surendran do not share the best of the ties. 

Last week on Saturday, Sobha broke down during an interview while recounting how she was humiliated by the BJP state leadership and how false stories were circulated to tarnish her image. 

She highlighted how she was not invited when senior BJP leader Amit Shah was touring her home district of Thrissur in March. Complaints were made thrice to Javadekar but to no avail, she added.

“I have narrated my alienation to the party leadership in the past, but nothing happened till now. I am working to fulfil the aspiration of the prime minister, but few people don’t want to take everybody along,” she told ThePrint.

Shobha has seen her stocks fall in the party especially after she lost the race to become the BJP state chief after the balance of scales tilted in favour of Surendran, who had the backing of Union minister V. Muraleedharan. In October 2021, Sobha and veteran O. Rajagopal were dropped from the BJP national executive. 

The latest outburst of Sobha came after rumours circulated that Muraleedharan was preparing to contest from Attingal, the parliamentary constituency which she is also eyeing for the 2024 battle. 

Though Adoor Prakash of the Congress won from this seat in 2019, Sobha got 2.5 lakh votes — much higher than 92,000 votes tallied by the BJP in 2014.

“Sobha’s firebrand image has her own appeal. She draws voters. But the Surendran team has cornered her. Since Muraleedharan and Surendran are running the party, other voices are cornered. That is why infighting is not dying down,“ a former Kerala BJP general secretary told ThePrint. 

In June, the BJP replaced M. Ganeshan with K. Subhas as the joint general secretary after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) received a long list of allegations against the pracharak. 

This, a BJP Kerala functionary told ThePrint, was done after the Sangh found Ganeshan has used funds which the BJP sent to the state unit for different purposes other than on party activities. Incidentally, Ganeshan was brought to the state unit in 2016 with the target to end factionalism in the state unit.

Meanwhile, Malayalam director Rajasenan and filmmaker Ali Akbar  announced their decision to quit the BJP in June, while actor Bheeman Raghu exited from the party in July. 

Also Read: Kerala BJP is a divided house under K Surendran. The Tamil Nadu model isn’t working  

Manipur conflict, UCC headache 

As part of the BJP’s outreach to the Christians, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met eight heads of Kerala churches, including Cardinal George Alencherry of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, in April. 

But whatever goodwill that the PM’s visit had earned was eroded by the over two month long ethnic violence in Manipur, where Christians comprise over 41 percent of its population.

In June last week, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church came out against the ongoing ethnic clashes in Manipur, saying that it has “turned into a genocide”. The crisis in Manipur had developed into “another version” of the 2002 Gujarat riots, it said.

Thalassery Archdiocese Bishop Mar Joseph Pamplany, who announced to vote for the BJP in March if rubber prices were hiked, had even reminded Modi that the people would not take his statements regarding minorities if such atrocities continue.

If that was not enough, the BJP’s push for the Uniform Civil Code has further complicated its standing with the Christians in the state. BJP Kerala vice-president K.S. Radhakrishnan has now been given responsibility to reconnect with the community. 

“The efforts of four years, the warmth that church leaders showed us… They even met Modi and submitted their concerns. The party leaders were told to visit churches, but now every community member is sceptical about the Uniform Civil Code. Trust deficit has marred our efforts,” another BJP state vice-president said.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: BJP wooing Kerala cardinals. But Christians say they never take voting cues from church



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