Focus Corner

BJP’s Thrissur Campaign: Christian Outreach Strategy Unveiled

Exploring Suresh Gopi's Role and Controversies Amidst Political Dynamics

Thrissur: In the Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is placing a significant bet on a “Christian outreach.” To capitalize on Suresh Gopi’s popularity, the party has put forward popular former Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi as its candidate.

Thrissur is now experiencing a three-way election contest. In addition to Gopi, K. Muraleedharan has been nominated by the United Democratic Front (UDF), which is run by the Indian National Congress (INC). VS Sunil Kumar is running for the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which is led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Christians make up a significant portion of Thrissur’s population. The district has a Hindu majority of 58.4%, but Christians account for 24.5% and Muslims for 17%. This religious diversity has added an interesting dynamic to the electoral contest.

Gopi’s Christian Outreach

Suresh Gopi contested from Thrissur in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly elections but finished third both times. The BJP’s Christian outreach has sparked mixed reactions from the community. While some are inclined to support Gopi due to his “helping mentality,” others are sceptical about the party’s intentions. “Suresh Gopi had been visiting church after church, but Christians won’t vote for him. The minorities are worried. “We decided we wouldn’t support him when they started talking badly about the Palayoor Church,”.  Said Joy, a 52-year-old autorickshaw driver.

The Palayoor Controversy

The Palayoor St Thomas Major Archi Episcopal Shrine, believed to be the oldest church in the country, was built by St Thomas in AD 52 and has become a point of contention. A couple of months ago, a Hindu Aikya Vedi (HAV) leader in Kerala, RV Babu, claimed that “this church was once a Shiva temple,” triggering a backlash from the Christian community.

“A lotus can’t bloom in seawater. The BJP has understood that without the votes of Christians, they cannot make any headway in Kerala,” said 80-year-old Rafael, a local businessman, referring to the BJP’s efforts to court the Christian community.

Rafael and others like him believe that the HAV leader’s statement was part of a “divisive agenda meant to invoke sentiment” against the Christian community.

“My father bought land here from Hindus. Does that mean the previous owners can come and say that this land is theirs now? We were all born here, and we lived our life here. They want Christians and Muslims to leave. This is our country, too,” Rafael added.

Manipur Conflict Comes into Focus

The conflict in Manipur has also become a talking point in the Thrissur campaign. When Suresh Gopi visited St Joseph’s Church in Avinissery for campaigning, the vicar of the church, Fr Lijo Chalisserry, was seen questioning the BJP leader about the Union government’s silence on the Manipur violence.

“The suffering of Christians is evident in Manipur. Why did the Union government maintain silence? I am asking you because I have been hearing about their pain a lot,” Fr Chalisserry told Gopi.

However, the BJP has dismissed this as a “false narrative” spread by the opposition. Tony Paul Chackola, the party’s Minority Morcha district president, claimed that “in Manipur, the fight is between Kukis and Meiteis – not between Hindus and Christians.”

Aneesh Kumar, BJP Thrissur district president, stated that the party had “addressed Manipur” and “corrected” the vicar’s concerns about the situation.

Suresh Gopi Factor

Suresh Gopi, known for his versatile acting skills in Malayalam cinema, fits the BJP’s archetypal candidate. However, he is not a typical saffron party leader. Gopi was once active in student politics with the Left parties and even leaned towards Congress at one point.

The actor’s philanthropic work in Thrissur and across Kerala, as well as his stint as the host of the popular TV show ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,’ have added to his star power. But Gopi is also no stranger to controversies.

Last year, Gopi was called out for “behaving inappropriately” with a female journalist on camera. He has also courted controversy for saying he was “envious to Brahmans and wanted to be reborn as a priest in his next life” to tend to Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala Temple.

His caste and gender prejudices are very clear—and he subscribes to the BJP’s Hindutva politics. The words he is using, his tricks, are not fit for an MP,” opined 22-year-old Alex, a student based in Thrissur.

However, 23-year-old Shreya, a law student and a second-time voter, said that while she doesn’t subscribe to Gopi’s politics, “his popularity among her peers and the older generation has increased.”

Another student, 22-year-old Maheshwari, believes this may be due to the BJP’s narrative. They claim that Suresh Gopi becoming an MP would help Thrissur get more funding from the Centre, where the party is likely to come to power.

Congress’ Muraleedharan and LDF’s Sunil Kumar

The Congress-led UDF has nominated K. Muraleedharan, the son of former Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, as its “surprise” candidate in Thrissur. Muraleedharan, an upper-caste Nair, is known among the party’s cadre as someone who contests from “crisis seats.

“In this age of social media, people are more equipped to learn about their candidates. Muraleedharan is our most winnable candidate; he has support from the majority and the minority communities,” said Congress district president Jose Valloor.

Meanwhile, the CPI(M)-led LDF has fielded two-time MLA vs Sunil Kumar, a CPI leader widely seen as a “people’s person” in Thrissur. Several voters, including 23-year-old Shreya, described Sunil Kumar as the most “people-friendly” and “worthy” among the three candidates.

However, 34-year-old Rafeek PK, an expat who has worked in Qatar for over seven years, expressed disappointment with the LDF government in Kerala, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. “The state of employment here is pathetic. But I will have to support the Left government because there are no alternatives,” Rafeek said.

The Battle of Thrissur

There are seven Assembly constituencies in the Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency; three are ruled by the CPI and four by the CPI(M). This makes it a crucial battleground for the BJP. The party is trying to gain ground in a district that has historically been controlled by the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF.

“In most other seats in Kerala, the fight is going to be between the UDF and the LDF. Therefore, the Thrissur seat is very important for the BJP,” said Jacob George, a senior journalist and political commentator.

The Manipur conflict and the BJP’s Christian outreach are likely major talking issues during the Thrissur campaign. Opposition parties continue to have doubts about the BJP’s intentions despite the party’s assertions that it has addressed the concerns of the Christian population.

Voters in this seat, noted for its rich cultural legacy and yearly Thrissur Pooram festival, will closely observe how religious and political dynamics unfold as the race for Thrissur heats up.

Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is a seasoned Political Journalist with a deep passion for Indian Politics. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has established himself as a trusted… More »

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