As a part of the recent reshuffling of his cabinet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to reach out to the Christian community in the country. The induction of KJ Alphons, a former bureaucrat and the BJP leader from Kerala is perceived as Modi’s and BJP’s efforts to woo the Christians in the country as a whole and the Christians in Kerala ahead of the general elections in 2019.
In the elections to the Kerala State Assembly, the BJP could not do well as the main contest was between the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Communist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF). This was despite the fact that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has had a strong base in Kerala for the past many years.
Alphons belonged to the 1979 batch of the Kerala cadre. As a bureaucrat, he had led Kottayam into becoming the first district in state to attain 100 per cent literacy. He had won Kerala Assembly election in 2006 as an independent with support by the Left, from a Christian-dominated constituency. In 2011, Alphons had joined BJP.
The BJP had made a debut in Kerala Assembly in 2016 elections, with 86-year-old O Rajagopal winning the Nemom seat, located near Thiruvananthapuram.
Besides the Christians, Kerala has a sizable number of Muslim voters, the two communities the BJP has not been able to woo successfully. In Goa, on the other hand, the BJP has come to power in the consecutive polls with support of the Christian electorates. In the recent Goa Assembly elections, 13 BJP MLAs were elected and seven of them were Catholics. This has been possible with the social engineering adopted by Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. The induction of KJ Alphons (63) into the Union Cabinet is clearly seen as a move to replicate the Goa experiment in yet another coastal state.
Soon after assuming the charge as Union Tourism Minister, Alphons has said that people in Kerala would be free to consume beef just as the people in the BJP-ruled Goa state. He has further stated that the BJP does not dictate the food habits of the people. It may be recalled that Chief Minister Parrikar had while speaking in Goa Assembly assured that there will be no shortage of beef in the state and that if needed, more beef would be brought from the neighbouring Karnataka state.
Cow slaughter has been banned in a majority of the states in the country while consumption of beef has also been banned in many states including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand. Kerala is one of the few states where there is no ban on cow slaughter.
The new Union tourism minister has said that he would work as a bridge between the Christian community in the country and the BJP. He has also said that many of the concerns raised by the Christians in the country about the BJP were a mere propaganda. When Narendra Modi formed his government in 2014, it was pointed out that this was for the first time that a Christian member was not part of the Union government. Incidentally, this is also for the first time that the ruling party at the Centre, which has a majority in Lok Sabha, does not have a single Muslim or Christian individual as a member of the lower House of Parliament. Alphons’ induction as a Union minister in a way rectifies the situation, albeit less than two years before the next general polls.