The fight for minority votes in Kerala

How the Congress and CPI(M) are trying to outdo each other

March 20, 2024 01:35 am | Updated 12:46 pm IST

United Democratic Front leaders Anoop Jacob, M.M. Hassan, P.K. Kunjalikutty, V.D. Satheesan and K. Sudhakaran during a meeting in Thiruvananthapuram. File

United Democratic Front leaders Anoop Jacob, M.M. Hassan, P.K. Kunjalikutty, V.D. Satheesan and K. Sudhakaran during a meeting in Thiruvananthapuram. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress are fighting for Christian and Muslim votes in Kerala. The two communities, which constitute 26.56% and 18.38% of Kerala’s electorate, respectively, could play a critical role in determining the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in the State.

Christians and Muslims have rarely behaved as a homogenous voting bloc in Kerala. However, the concerns of the leaders of these communities about the continuing dominance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the country may galvanise these groups to vote in a more focused and uniform pattern compared to the Lok Sabha polls of 2019.

Also read | CPI(M), Congress wooing minority votes, says M.T. Ramesh

The Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama, an influential Sunni organisation, and the Latin Catholic Church have expressed their worry about the divisive politics playing out in the country.

Taking a potshot at the Congress, the Samastha published an editorial in Suprabhaatham, the organisation’s mouthpiece, expressing “deep fear” at the “overnight” shift of those who had earlier endorsed the secular and democratic legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, to the Sangh Parivar. The defections of Anil K. Antony, son of former Congress Chief Minister A.K. Antony, and Padmaja Venugopal, daughter of former Congress Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, to the BJP triggered the opinion piece. The editorial particularly expressed anguish at the fact that they had chosen the BJP over secular parties including the CPI(M).

Also read |Quiet fear of dividing anti-BJP votes plagues UDF and LDF as poll campaigning gets shriller

Soon after, the Latin Catholic Church urged the laity to pray and fast on March 22 as a peaceful form of protest and social action against the rising tide of religious bigotry against minorities. The Church’s message seemed to support the INDIA bloc’s narrative that the Sangh Parivar poses a threat to secularism, democracy, and diversity.

While the Congress and the CPI(M) are INDIA bloc partners at the national level, they are political rivals in Kerala. In an attempt to outpace the Congress in its minority outreach, the CPI(M) announced last week that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan would lead huge rallies across Kerala to mobilise public opinion against the Centre’s decision to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, as well as the attacks on Christians in Manipur.

Mr. Vijayan pointedly accused the Congress of pussyfooting around the BJP’s move to implement what he termed the “patently anti-Muslim” CAA. He alleged that Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, have been muted in their opposition to the divisive law. In a move likely to have electoral ramifications, Mr. Vijayan also hastily withdrew the cases that his government had registered against anti-CAA protesters in 2019 and against Latin Catholic Church-backed people who had protested against the construction of the International Seaport at Vizhinjam in 2022. The cases were sore points between the LDF government and the minority communities.

The Congress is yet to announce a counter to the CPI(M)’s minority outreach. Nevertheless, it remains confident that its closest coalition ally, the Indian Union Muslim League, will attract Muslim votes for the United Democratic Front (UDF). Moreover, the Congress believes that Latin Catholics, who constitute 13% of Christians in Kerala, will continue to support it, despite the CPI(M)’s and BJP’s repeated efforts to reach out to the community.

Also read | CPI(M) in Kerala says Congress’s ambivalence about attending Ayodhya Ram temple consecration will subvert secular ideal of INDIA bloc

Simultaneously, the Congress has attempted to dent the CPI(M)’s staunch anti-BJP image by alleging that both the parties are in cahoots in Kerala. The Leader of the Opposition, V.D. Satheesan, accused a top Left Democratic Front (LDF) leader, E.P. Jayarajan, and Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, of being stakeholders in an Ayurveda resort in Kannur. Mr. Satheesan alleged that the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department had dropped their investigations into the supposedly dubious sources of funding for the Ayurveda resort after Mr. Chandrasekhar acquired stakes in the institution. In return, the State government too dropped important cases against BJP leaders, he claimed.

In Kerala, given the social, educational, regional, political and economic differences among them, minorities have never voted in a homogeneous manner. However, the BJP’s reported ascendancy in the State might alter this voting behaviour. Whether the Congress or the CPI(M) will benefit more from this remains to be seen.

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