BJP’s growth in Kerala faster than anticipated, says George Kurian

Kurian spoke to TNIE at length about being a Christian leader in the BJP, his equation with the top leadership of the BJP and the party’s future in the state.
George Kurian
George Kurian

Excerpts :

You joined BJP when it was not a big player in the political arena. What was your motivation to join the party?

That came about as part of a political process. I came into politics through the JP movement, and the reason for joining the JP movement was the Emergency. I became part of the BJP following the split in the Janata Party, which happened in April 1980. The split happened because of the decision that Janata Party members should not have ‘dual memberships’, of the party and the RSS. My argument was that RSS workers are free to work in a political party and that even JP had praised the role played by RSS during the Emergency. I’m a JP school of thought within the BJP (smiles).

You are perhaps one of the first few Christians from Kerala to join BJP. What was the Church’s reaction then?

I come from a village of very orthodox Christians and my life has always been attached to the church. When I got married in 1994, BJP leader K G Marar had attended the marriage function. During his speech, the priest said I am an ideal believer and that he is not concerned about my politics. I was an active member of various church forums. Nobody in our parish has ever questioned my politics. There has never been any identity crisis for me.

How about your family?

My father was a liberal Catholic. My mother passed away when I was around 10 and I didn’t have any sisters. I used to join my father and four elder brothers in cooking and daily chores. Though my brothers had different political affiliations, they never questioned my politics.

Your induction into the Modi ministry is seen as a recognition to the Christian community in the state…

The party never said it was a recognition for a Christian leader. I have been instructed to do justice to the portfolio given to me. If it is a recognition on religious grounds, how can it be a message to the party workers? I am a representative of the party workers who are committed to the organisation. The message is that the party will give due recognition to its workers who serve the party.

Are you still a practising Christian?

Of course! All through my life, I have been following the rules of the Church. That’s my separate personal identity, and of course, I’m keeping that identity intact.

Does the party leadership view you as a bridge between the party and the Christian community?

I meet bishops and speak to them. I also go to them whenever I need spiritual support. I request them to pray for me. We also discuss all issues, including politics.

You were one of the few Christians who were involved in the Nilakkal struggle which was deemed a Hindu vs Christian tussle. What was your experience?

The priest of my parish once asked me whether I was involved in the Nilakkal struggle. I nodded and he said it was a good decision. He said some people were creating unnecessary issues to create discord in society. Many in the Church were against that dispute.

Union Minister George Kurian speaking to team TNIE
Union Minister George Kurian speaking to team TNIEPhoto | Express

You said you are a practising Christian... What were your feelings when missionaries and churches were attacked in north India?

I understood the ground reality when I was the vice-chairman of the (National) Minorities Commission. People would call me up even in the dead of the night, seeking help. I would grow worried and call up top police officers. During the early days, I didn’t know the ground reality and would get worked up. An SP with the Haryana police once said how highly literate Keralites could be so stupid. There are places in Haryana where people from outside are not allowed, even the police wouldn’t dare enter. The permission of the village head is required for entry. However, these Malayalis venture into the village and start preaching, and get attacked.

RSS leaders have been accusing Christian groups of trying to convert people…

When it comes to conversion, I don’t have an opinion different from the RSS. All the mainstream Churches are against conversion. Even the Pope is against conversion.

The state BJP often went into defensive mode when Christian institutions in north India were attacked. As a BJP leader, did you face an identity crisis here? Did anyone ask why you are with the BJP?

The Manipur violence was propagated exaggeratedly. If you ask me, I think it has helped the BJP in Kerala this time... because Christians studied the incident. Also, there was a statement from Archbishop Oswald Gracias at the beginning of the Manipur violence, where he said it was an issue between tribal communities. Later, Christian communities in Kerala also realised that the Manipur issue was related to violence between two tribes.

How do you look at the election results in Kerala?

Earlier, we used to have discussions about BJP’s votes going to either LDF or UDF. But now there are discussions within both LDF and UDF regarding their votes going to the BJP (smiles). Currently, we have around 20% vote share here. So, when the virtues of Suresh Gopi were added to these 20% votes, we won Thrissur. The same was true with O Rajagopal. He too attracted votes across all sections because of his good qualities.

Do you mean to say BJP will be very careful about its candidate selection in future?

Yes. Candidate selection is important. When we achieve around 25% of votes in Kerala, we will have three or four MPs here. In Kerala, it is easier for the BJP to win Lok Sabha seats than assembly seats. The election result also has a connection with the political situation in India. People are observing the BJP government at the Centre. Once we achieve a 25% vote share, other parties will come to us to form a coalition. Then we can win Kerala as well.

BJP will be able to win in Kerala only if it is able to win over the Christian community too…What’s the way forward for the party in Kerala?

BJP is not focusing on religion or caste-based politics. Instead, we are targeting new generation voters. Youngsters don’t care about the political allegiance of their family. Around 60% of people are under the age of 35 here. They vote for parties that do them good. We are concentrating on these voters, and they voted for BJP this time. Youngsters don’t care about religion and caste.

The collapse of LDF might make it easier for BJP as it is primarily a party of Hindus. UDF has the support of minority communities… don’t you think so?

As I told you earlier, our strategy is not focused on religious affiliations such as Hindu or Christian but on appealing to the new generation which prioritises development and contemporary issues. Voters are not swayed by traditional political narratives and make decisions based on their personal experiences and needs. Kerala now requires development, a new approach to the modern age.

The new generation is also exposed to the Prime Minister’s blatant communal statements in other states. How will you win them over?

The younger generation views political statements differently from older generations. They interpret them within a political context and focus on issues that directly impact their lives. This generation is less interested in sensational news and is more focused on information that is relevant to their daily lives. This shift in perspective is evident in how they engage with and respond to political discourse.

You came into politics through the JP movement. How can you reconcile with the present-day BJP’s aggressive ideology?

I will tell you something… on February 1, 1986, the locks of Ram Janma Bhoomi were opened by the then PM Rajiv Gandhi. For three years, the BJP waited. Later, January 26, 1987, was observed as a Black Day by the Babri Masjid Action Council across the country. Actually, the Congress was behind this. At the same time, Rajiv Gandhi began to speak about Ram Rajya. Only then did Atalji hold a press conference and said BJP was taking over the Ram Janma Bhoomi issue.

Do you mean to say Congress was playing communal politics?

The Babri Masjid issue could have been resolved the way it has been done now by Modi or the Supreme Court in 1986 itself. Nobody would have even come to know of it. After calling both sides, they could have resolved the matter amicably. But Congress didn’t do that. That’s called communalism. Congress is the ustad of communalism.

Coming back to Kerala, there is an allegation that the Union government is not releasing funds for the state and that it comes in the way of development, say SilverLine...

While considering railway projects, they are handled scientifically by the Railway Board. The public too is opposing the SilverLine project. Moreover, through the introduction of Vande Bharat trains, most of the problems were solved.

There was a lot of hype about BJP’s Christian outreach programme. But the results show that the community hasn’t voted for BJP except in Thrissur.

We did get a good chunk of votes from the Christian community.

But in a constituency like Thiruvananthapuram, Rajeev Chandrasekhar lost out when the votes of Kovalam were counted. That means BJP failed to get Latin Christian votes…

I was in charge there some time ago. In the four constituencies in the city, our organisation is strong. But we have to improve our performance in the other three constituencies — Kovalam, Neyyattinkara and Parassala. But the vote share is increasing. We need organisational strength to get more votes.

There is a view that Syro-Malabar Church is supporting BJP while the Latin Church is still with Congress. How do you see that analysis?

It isn’t completely true. BJP is getting Latin votes as well. But if the party is not strong in places where Latin Christians are concentrated, how can we get votes?

What are your plans to attract Muslim voters?

How can we leave out Muslims? The issues like Triple Talaq are supported by Muslim women. People have shared their experiences and accepted it was a good decision.

But BJP doesn’t have a single Muslim minister…

Winning probability is important. When they win, they will get representation.

What about Rajya Sabha?

We already have. We have members from Jammu and Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha.

Has anyone from the Muslim community contacted you after you became a minister?

Yes, they have contacted me. But I cannot reveal that now.

Now you are a Minister of State for Minority Affairs as well. Are you planning some schemes or proposals to change BJP’s ‘anti-minority’ image?

If we continue to do what we’re doing now, then the image will naturally change. Now we’ve got the votes of Christians. Then there is news about people preventing voters in a (Muslim-majority) constituency from casting votes for a particular candidate. This image will be there for only a short period and it will change.

But in the case of Manipur, there is a law and order issue… churches are being vandalised, we’ve seen the visuals. Maybe the issue wasn’t religious. Still, it’s a law-and-order situation…

Everyone admits to the law-and-order situation. Now the home minister is holding discussions for that. Not only churches but other places of worship have also been demolished. Videos are also there but they are not coming out. These are all done with a purpose (agenda).

But what prevented the Prime Minister from issuing a statement?

Only one Prime Minister has issued a statement when riots broke out in the country. During the reign of Indira Gandhi, numerous riots happened in Bhagalpur. Not a word was spoken. Rajiv Gandhi made the statement ‘when a big tree (great leader) falls..’ After that, nearly 2,000 people died in clashes. When a riot occurred in France, the country’s president didn’t utter a word. In no country will the rulers speak on the riot that breaks out among the people there.

Christians have been a loyal vote bank of the Congress party. Why should they shift their loyalty to BJP?

For development, nothing else.

TNIE team: Kiran Prakash, Cithara Paul, M K Sasidharan Nair, Rajesh Abraham, Manoj Viswanathan, Arun M

A Sanesh (photos),

Pranav V P (video)

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