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Love jihad and other fears: Common BJP-Christian bonding ground

In a four part series, Onmanorama decodes how BJP befriends clergy to win the electoral race in Kerala. Read Part 1: Bindi and Bible, why BJP hails this sermon in Kerala, Part 2: Marx or Ram, for whom the Church bell tolls, Part 4: Modi proposes, Church disposes?

When 'love jihad', a term coined by BJP-RSS supporters who have accused Muslim community of persuading women of other religions into marriage to convert them to Islam, was trending on social media, a Catholic Bishop in Kerala came up with a statement that stirred up a political furore in 2021.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt warned the Christians to be wary of ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’, a new phrase he added to the Islamophobic expressions.

Muslim outfits took out a protest march to the Bishop House and Christian groups retorted with their own agitations. These unprecedented developments brought to light what should have been brewing in some dark corners of sectarian thought for sometime. Throughout the controversy, the BJP stood with the church, which saw nothing wrong in the saffron party's support for a common cause.

“The Muslim outfits’ protest march to the Bishop’s House had provoked a large section of Christians. So when the BJP government banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) for five years, the Christians found it a huge relief,” a BJP state general secretary, actively involved in the Christian outreach project of the party, said.

Catholic girls becoming victims of love, narcotic jihad: Kerala Syro Malabar Church
Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt

According to him, the global concern of the Christians over Islamic extremism and the unprecedented growth of the BJP have built the necessary common ground for the two to meet. The priests and the laity leaders Onmanorama spoke to by and large agreed. 

“Christians are increasingly concerned about what they perceive to be incidents of 'love jihad', growing influence of PFI over Muslims and not getting due share of minority rights,” a laity leader from Idukki told Onmanorama.

However, a police team, headed by the then Kerala police chief Jacob Punnoose, conducted an inquiry in 2009 into the alleged cases of ‘love jihad’ in Kerala. The cops examined 100-odd cases of interfaith marriages based on a directive from the Kerala High Court and found that there was no conspiracy by Muslim men to pretend to be in love with a Hindu or a Christian girl only to convert her. In 2018, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) almost repeated the investigation following an order by the Supreme Court in the wake of the ‘Hadiya’ case. The agency also came up with similar findings that it could not find evidence for any such larger conspiracy. In 2020, the Union home ministry stated in the Parliament that the term ‘love jihad’ was not defined under any existing laws and no such case was reported by any central investigation agency.

CASA conundrum
The Christian Association and Alliance for Social Action (CASA) represents everything that is Islamophobic within the Christian sects in Kerala. The organisation was founded a few years ago by Kochi native Kevin Peter, who believes his daughter who left her family for a Muslim boy at the age of 18 is a victim of ‘love jihad’. CASA claims it has interfered in over 200 cases of ‘love jihad’. The association helps parents file habeas corpus writs.

The organisation claims to have support from within 18 sects of Christians in the state and it is highly active on social media. Its supporters are branded ‘Chrisanghis’ (Christian Sanghis) by its critics like the young woman from Kannur in the first part of this series who refused to accept Modi’s Christmas greetings.

A casual look at CASA’s social media posts would reveal it supports the BJP on almost every issue such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, farmers bill and so on. During the 2021 assembly polls in Kerala, CASA had extended its support to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Critics say the association is funded by the Sangh Parivar. Kevin rubbished the allegations of RSS funding and claimed that CASA would have grown up much larger had it received the required funds from any corner.

“It’s true that the Sangh Parivar and CASA sound similar because the Hindu community and Christians are facing the same issues like ‘love jihad’ and the invasion of political Islam,” he said. Kevin said CASA would continue to support the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in all possible manner.

The church leadership has kept a distance from the association, at least in public. “Their (CASA’s) complaint is that our stand is not extremist enough. We are neither for nor against them at the moment,” a Catholic priest said. A Jacobite top priest, a staunch critic of the pro-Sangh Parivar trends among Christians, said groups like CASA reflected the global phenomenon of Islamophobia. “I don’t think they emerged organically. It seems to be a well-planned move,” the top clergyman said.
(Part 4 : BJP shores up support only to meet with resistance)

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