Kerala politicianover a hate speech targeting the Muslim community at an event backed by the Sangh Parivar and his subsequent bail have deepened faultlines between Muslim and Christian communities, and could have far-reaching political ramifications in the state.
While the ruling CPM, Opposition Congress and Muslim organisations criticised George for his remarks, he found support from sections of the Christian community who said that the police action smacked of “double standards” of the CPI(M)-led LDF government.
Theand a Catholic laity organisation, Catholica Congress, said that by taking action against George, “the government wanted to appease extremists.” Right-wing conservative Christian outfit Christian Association and Alliance for Social Action (CASA), which was part of last week’s Hindu Maha Sammelan, also backed the BJP’s charge.
Both the BJP and the Catholica Congress, which is directly controlled by bishops in Kerala, also accused the state government of “not acting against certain community leaders” when they allegedly “insulted Christian faith and Gods” in the recent past.
George’s comments were not criticised by any of the bishops. Additionally, on Monday, the Catholic Church mouthpiece, Deepika, referred to his arrest as one for “over speech” and not hate speech.
A senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named, said both the CPI(M) and BJP were handling the fallout of George’s speech “overzealously”. “Police landed at George’s residence in Kottayam in a pre-dawn swoop on Sunday, making it the biggest event of the day. The handling of the issue by the government helped BJP to find another common cause with Christians,’’ he said.
Muslims and Christians are traditional vote banks of the Congress-led UDF in Kerala, and the Congress views George’s arrest as a CPI(M) agenda to help the BJP and split the Christian vote. The CPI(M)’s “hypocrisy” was further questionedat the magistrate court in Thiruvananthapuram to oppose George’s bail application. The prosecutor later told the media that police had not given her any direction to appear in court. Now, the government is mulling an appeal against the bail granted to George, which is expected to further energise Sangh Parivar and Christian outfits backing the politician.
The controversy also comes at a time when Islamophobia has been gaining ground among a section of Christians in Kerala. The BJP, which has failed to get a regional Christian party into the NDA’s fold, has also been wooing Christians in the state by playing into fears of Islamic fundamentalism.
Also, many senior Christian faces in Congress have now either retired or have been side-lined. Regional Christian party Kerala Congress (M), which addressed Christian interests in state politics, has lost its clout after the death of veteran leader K M Mani and recurring splits. A faction led by Mani’s son, but holds little sway in the ruling coalition.
Besides, Christians seem to be losing interest in the Congress-led UDF, fearing that the Indian Union Muslim League would further gain strength in the coalition. It is this shift, it is believed, that took traditional Christian votes away from the UDF in the last Assembly elections, eventually contributing to the CPI(M) consecutive win.
The Catholica Congress was also critical of Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan’s demand that stern action be taken against George, and said that the Congress leader “favoured one side” in the issue due to vote bank pressure.
For the BJP, the changing political loyalties within sections of the Christian community has come as an opportunity to woo voters and change existing equations in the state. It also has support of the CASA, which joined hands with Hindu outfits in a march held in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday against George’s arrest.
On Tuesday, CASA also organised a reception for George in his home district Kottayam, with the support of Sangh Parivar outfits.
George is a six-time MLA and had last won in 2016 as an independent from Poonjar. He was earlier a member of KC(M), a Congress ally at the time, and was chief whip when the Congress-led UDF was in power. He lost from Poonjar in 2021.