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George Kurian And BJP's 'Minority Mantra' In Kerala

The elevation of George Kurian, long serving Party functionary, to the Union cabinet is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ongoing “Christian project” in Kerala

George Kurian And BJP's 'Minority Mantra' In Kerala
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Despite being a frequent participant in television debates in Kerala, George Kurian, a surprise addition to the new Union cabinet, is the least trolled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in the state. While other celebrities like actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Alphonse Kannanthanam have faced heavy trolling, Kurian has remained untouched by social media. Known for his calm and balanced demeanour, he has been steadfast in his political positions. Despite being a member of the Christian community, he has never shied away from expressing the overtly communal stance of the Sangh Parivar. A loyalist since the BJP’s formation, Kurian has remained with the Party even during its difficult times.

“Kurian’s political life began with the JP Movement,” recalls his colleague, Narayanan Nambuthiri, BJP spokesperson, Kerala. Nambuthiri, who has known Kurian since 1980, the period of the formation of the BJP, notes that Kurian’s entry into the Party was not unusual for a Christian in Kerala at the time. Kurian started his public life as an active member and office bearer of the Student Morcha, eventually rising to the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). “He was attracted to the ideology upheld by the Jana Sangh and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Not being an opportunist, he stood with the Party through all its ups and downs,” says Nambuthiri.

Kurian has never publicly been seen taking sides in the factional feuds within the Party. He was closely connected to the central leadership of the BJP, serving as a National Executive member from 1999-2010. Kurian was appointed as the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) for O Rajagopal when he was a Minister of State in the Union government from 1999-2004. As the All India General Secretary of the Minority Morcha, Kurian became more active in State politics from 2010. He took on the role of State spokesperson for the BJP in 2010 and was appointed Vice Chairman of the National Minority Commission in 2015. At the time of his elevation to this post, he was the State General Secretary of the Party in Kerala.

Even while holding various responsibilities at the national level, Kurian has maintained an active presence in the State. He contested the 2016 Assembly election in Puthuppally constituency against then Chief Minister and Congress leader Oommen Chandy but did not win the seat. Political opponents remember him as a man who refrained from personal attacks. “During the campaign in Puthuppally, although he criticised the government severely, he never crossed the line or made below-the-belt allegations, as we often see in today’s politics,” says a Congress office bearer from Puthuppally.

However, despite being a member of a minority community, Kurian has consistently aligned himself with hardline Hindutva politics. He endorsed the ‘Narcotic Jihad’ theory put forth by Pala Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala, even going so far as to write a letter to the Home Minister requesting increased security for the Bishop. In 2021, the Pala Bishop had said that extremists were employing tactics such as ‘Love Jihad’ and ‘Narcotic Jihad’ to convert non-Muslims, citing instances where Muslim youth involved in drug-trafficking allegedly targeted individuals from other religions. This unsubstantiated allegation drew widespread criticism.

Kurian started as a member and office bearer of the Student Morcha, eventually rising to the national leadership of the Yuva morcha.

Kurian’s elevation to the rank of Union minister is seen as part of the BJP’s strategy to expand its voter base in the Christian-majority regions in Kerala. The results of the 2024 elections have bolstered the Party’s hopes of increasing its influence among Kerala’s Christian voters. The shift in Christian votes in favour of the NDA was most notable in Thrissur, from where Suresh Gopi became the first BJP member elected to the Lok Sabha from Kerala. In Thrissur, where Christians constitute 21.4% of the electorate, Gopi led in six out of seven assembly segments, with margins ranging between 8,000 and 13,000 votes. A significant portion of Kerala’s 6.14 million (18.4%) Christian community is concentrated in the central districts of Ernakulam, Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta. In terms of vote share, the NDA saw an increase in Kottayam (from 17.04% to 19.74%), Idukki (from 8.55% to 10.86%), and Ernakulam (from 14.24% to 15.87%), while experiencing a decline in Pathanamthitta (from 28.95% to 25.49%).

Six seats in the State have a Christian population share of over 20%, with the highest being in Idukki at 41.8%, and Pathanamthitta at 39.6%. In the Kottayam Lok Sabha constituency, where Christian voters make up around 38.7% of the electorate, the Congress-led UDF saw a decline in their vote share compared to 2019, dropping from 46.25% to 43.6% in 2024, although they still won the seat. In Idukki, the UDF’s vote share decreased from 54% to 51%. However, the UDF increased its vote share in Ernakulam from 51% to 53%, where Christians constitute 32% of the electorate.

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“It is not factually correct to say that Kurian is an exception in the Party (as a member of the Christian community). When the Jana Sangh started, there were a handful of Christians at the forefront. O M Mathew and K U John, who belong to the Syro-Malabar Church like Kurian, were State Vice Presidents of the Jana Sangh,” says Nambuthiri.

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Kurian is not the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) member from Kerala to become a Union minister. P C Thomas, former leader of the Kerala Congress (Mani group) and initially part of the United Democratic Front (now with the Left Democratic Front), joined the NDA after leaving the Kerala Congress. The unexpected victory of P C Thomas, contesting as an NDA candidate from the Muvattupuzha Lok Sabha constituency in 2004, marked the BJP/NDA’s initial penetration into the Christian belt in central Kerala. Thomas, who was appointed to the Rajya Sabha in 2003, had previously served as a Minister of State in the Union government. His tenure continued until 2006 when the Supreme Court disqualified him for “invoking religious sentiments” during his campaign.

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The next prominent leader from the Christian community in the NDA in Kerala was renowned anti-corruption crusader Alphonse Kannanthanam, a 1979 batch IAS officer. During his tenure as Commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1990, he gained fame for his vigorous eviction campaign, reportedly demolishing over 14,000 illegal buildings.

Kannanthanam entered Kerala assembly politics in 2006 as an independent candidate supported by the LDF and won. However, in 2011, he joined the BJP and in 2017, he was appointed to the Union cabinet as the Minister of State for Information Technology, with an additional responsibility in the Tourism Ministry. Suresh Gopi, subsequently, is the second Union Minister of State under the NDA to hold the Tourism portfolio. Kannanthanam played a crucial role in fostering ties between BJP leaders and various factions within the Christian community in Kerala, particularly in the influential Syro-Malabar Church. His efforts significantly advanced the BJP’s “Christian Project” in Kerala. Home Minister Amit Shah’s meeting with bishops from multiple churches, including Catholic, Latin, Mar Thoma and Orthodox ones in 2017 underscored the Party’s ongoing efforts to integrate Christian leaders into its Central cabinet, highlighting that this initiative is not new for the BJP.

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It is evident that the BJP’s strategy to appeal to religious sentiments and garner support from the Christian vote base in Kerala has a long history dating back to the early 2000s. Unlike in other states, the BJP cannot secure seats in the Kerala Legislative assembly or the Lok Sabha without making inroads into minority votes, particularly the Christian electorate. The Muslim minority in the state remains largely beyond the Party’s reach.

(This appeared in the print as 'Minority Mantra')

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