Caste, religion take centrestage in poll debate

BJP steps up Hindutva campaign, CM dares Oppn. to discuss welfare issues

Political narrative in Kerala is becoming increasingly focussed on caste and religious issues as the State is all set to vote for a new government.

The BJP stepped up its Hindutva campaign this week by harping on its pet topics, ‘love jihad’ and the ‘disproportionate allocation of minority benefits.’

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Thursday raised the tempo of saffron campaign by accusing both the LDF and the UDF of supporting the ‘jihadist’ forces while blaming the State government for not passing an ‘anti-love jihad’ legislation.

Interestingly, it was Jose K. Mani, the leader of Kerala Congress (M), the latest entrant in the CPI(M)-led LDF, that ignited the debate on the sensitive issue of ‘love jihad’ last week through an inadvertent comment, only to retract it later.

Making use of the opportunity to woo Christian voters, BJP State president K. Surendran said the conversion to Islam under the pretext of inter-faith love marriages was a matter of grave concern for Christians.

Incidentally, in his efforts to re-centre the political debate, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan dared the Opposition to discuss the development and welfare issues by comparing the programmes of the previous UDF-led regime with that of his government.

“Kerala wants to know if the Opposition is willing to discuss development and welfare…” tweeted Mr. Vijayan.

“We have been raising the issue of ‘love jihad’ for long though many were not willing to accept it,” said B. Gopalakrishnan, the BJP leader, whose video of canvassing votes from a Christian priest by asking him to realise the issues faced by Hindus and Christians, had evoked sharp response.

The issue of “disproportionate allocation of minority welfare benefits” was also taken up by the party as the Christians had a grouse regarding the inequitable allocation of funds. These were some of the social issues in public domain, which the BJP raised along with that of corruption and misdeeds of the government, he said.

Interestingly, the otherwise vocal Vellappally Natesan, the general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, who raised the issue of ‘love jihad’ much ahead of political parties, distanced himself from the latest controversy.

“Though we had raised the issue earlier, its inappropriate to bring it at this stage as political as well as development issues need to be discussed during election. Elections need to be fought on political issues and not by creating social and communal divide,” Mr. Natesan said.

The Yogam will not either favour or oppose any party or formation in the election, including the Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) led by Thushar Vellappally. The Ezhava community and Yogam members can vote for candidates of their choice, he said.

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