The BJP is apparently not content with holding up Sabarimala as its major campaign issue. It will add one more deeply polarising issue into the campaign mix: Love Jihad.
Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers D V Sadananda Gowda, while releasing 'The NDA Chargesheet Against the LDF Government' in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, said if the BJP came to power in Kerala it would introduce an Uttar Pradesh-model legislation against 'love jihad' in Kerala. Gowda said the Love Jihad law would find a mention in the BJP's election manifesto.
'Love Jihad', the term given by the Sangh Parivar for what it terms the forcible conversion on non-Muslim girls to Islam in the guise of love, has been one of BJP pet themes. But, till now, it has never been a major campaign issue in Kerala. The BJP in Kerala has still not found the issue as having the adequate emotional valency to whip up communal passions. Kerala police's investigation into the veracity of the 'Love Jihad' conspiracy had not thrown up any proof either.
But if the BJP has decided to take up 'Love Jihad' as an issue, political observers say it is a ploy to bring the Christian community closer.
In January, 2020, the synod of Syro-Malabar Church, the most prominent Christian denomination in Kerala, said what only the Sangh Parivar had till then said, that there is 'love jihad' in Kerala. “It is a reality that ‘love jihad’ is happening in Kerala in a planned manner targeting Christian girls. There are circumstances in which Christian girls are killed in the name of 'love jihad' in Kerala,” the Synod said.
On Monday, Gowda echoed the fears of the Syro-Malabar Church. He said Kerala had become a hub for 'love jihad' and the Christian community in the State was being specifically targeted. He even accused the LDF government of supporting the practice.
In addition to 'love jihad' fears, the Christian community is also peeved with the Muslim community for opposing the 10 percent reservation announced by the LDF government for the poor among the forward castes. The conversion of the great symbol of secularism in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia museum, into a mosque and the comments of a top Muslim League leader in support of the conversion have also enraged the Christians.
This 'love jihad law', it is said, is an attempt to tap into the Christian distrust of the Muslim community. Already some Chrisitian denominations have openly expressed support to the BJP. The promise of a 'love jihad' law is seen as an attempt to cement the nascent BJP-Christian bond.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, makes conversion non-bailable with up to 10 years of jail time if undertaken through misinformation, unlawfully, forcefully, or through allurement or other allegedly fraudulent means. It also requires that religious conversions for marriage in Uttar Pradesh should be approved by a district magistrate.
The UP law, however, has no reference to 'love jihad'.
Gowda also hinted at a radical restructuring of devaswom boards if the BJP came to power. The union minister said the devaswom boards had disintegrated into centres of CPM activities. He said the boards in their existing form would be abolished and new structures would be established with devotees in charge. The devaswom restructure will also find a pride of place in the BJP election manifesto.
Reading out a litany of charges, Gowda said Kerala had become a hub for anti-national activities under the CPM, a clear reference to the gold smuggling scandal. he called Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan ''dictatorial'' and said he had failed to preserve transparency in administration, which Gowda said was a basic requirement in a democracy. He also accused the LDF Government of unleasing "witch hunts" against RSS and BJP workers.
He dismissed the UDF with one statement. "They are now led by 'Muslim fundamentalists," Gowda said.
Gowda expected the BJP's vote share to go up from approximately 17.3 per cent votes in the 2020 local body polls to to 30-35 per cent this time.