Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just concluded two-day visit to Kerala, had assumed political significance even before it started as it occurred at a time when the BJP is making all-out efforts to broaden its base in the state with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind.
The allotment of the Vande Bharat high-speed train from Thiruvananthapuram to Kannur, (which was later extended to Kasargod) and Modi’s meeting with a delegation of bishops from different denominations of the church, seem to have effectively flagged off the campaign for the 2024 elections.
Interactive session turns into Modi monologue
The prime minister chose to make overtly political statements at the ‘Yuvam 2023’, a youth summit, organised by a little-known voluntary organization, Vibrant Youth for Modifying Kerala, to the disappointment of many participants. Though the event was imagined as an interaction between the youth and the prime minister, it ended up as yet another Mann ki Baat session, with Modi delivering a political speech, and taking potshots at political opponents.
Also read: Modi in Kerala: Launches India’s first water metro and state’s first Vande Bharat train
“While one ideology prioritised the political party over the interests of the state, the other prioritised the interests of a family over those of the state. The youth of Kerala have realised that both of these ideologies are tampering with their future,” the prime minister said in his 40-odd-minute-long speech in Hindi at the event.
“The way north eastern states and Goa accepted the BJP, its work and its government, Kerala too will accept it in the coming days,” he added.
Expecting an interactive event by the prime minister, opposition parties had readied counter campaigns. Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) organised a state-wide campaign named, ‘Young India Ask the PM’ and had kept 100 questions ready for the prime minister on various issues concerning the youth.
The programme which was held in all the 14 districts saw the participation of senior CPI(M) leaders. The DYFI’s questions to the prime minister included those on unemployment, spiralling prices of essential commodities, India’s low rank on the Global Hunger Index, attacks on minorities and communal violence, leading to genocide of Muslims.
Also read: Kerala: Modi holds grand roadshow in Kochi; Vande Bharat, mega train project on cards
‘Nine years since Modi spoke to press’
“Nine years have passed since the Indian prime minister attended a press conference. The prime minister is interested only in Mann Ki Baat and scripted interviews,” alleged A A Rahim, member of Rajya Sabha and the president of DYFI.
“The youngsters of Kerala are asking one hundred questions to Modi and he should answer at least one of them. These questions are about common people’s issues,” he said, adding that the “NDA administration had transformed the nation into a haven for corporatization and communalism”.
The meeting with the bishops was a part of the BJP’s Christian outreach programme, which the party believes was successful after leaders paid friendly visits to homes of Christians on Easter day.
Cardinal George Alencherry of Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, the head of Syrian Orthodox Church, Joseph Mor Gregorios, the metropolitan trustee of the Jacobite Church, archbishop Joseph Kalathiparambil of the Latin denomination, Mathew Moolakkatt, archbishop of Knanaya Church, Kuriakose Mar Severios, archbishop of the Knanaya Jacobite archdiocese and Mar Awgin Kuriakose metropolitan of the Chaldean Syrian church were the eight high priests who met the prime minister soon after he arrived in Kochi.
Also read: A pro-BJP Christian party, led by ex-UDF leaders, taking shape in Kerala? Buzz grows
According to sources close to the Latin Church, the priests managed to bring up issues concerning rubber prices and Dalit Christian reservations before the prime minister, but the meeting’s time constraint proved to be a hindrance.
On the other hand, a few voices of dissidence were also raised from within the church.
“Religious leaders only have one vote in our nation, just like everyone else. They only have control or influence over that one. The beauty of democracy is that the time when believers cast their ballots in accordance with the bishops is long gone,” said Gee Varghese Mor Coorilos, the metropolitan of Niranam diocese of Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church in a Facebook post.
Making a case for central projects
Modi’s tone at official events was slightly different but the speeches were crafted to project the Union government’s development initiatives over the efforts of the state.
Even though Modi praised Kerala’s achievements in his speech while flagging off several projects at Thiruvananthapuram, the emphasis was on the difference in approach by the Centre after 2014, the year the BJP came to power at the Centre.
Also read: After Easter ‘sneha yatra’, Kerala BJP hosts Vishu breakfast for Christians
“There are several reasons behind this strong trust of the world in India. Firstly, a decisive government at the Centre, a government that takes major decisions in the interest of India; secondly, unprecedented investment on modern infrastructure by the central government; thirdly, investment on our demography i.e., youth skills; and lastly the commitment of the central government regarding ease of living and ease of doing businesses,” he said.
CPI(M) accuses Centre of false propaganda
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, made it clear in his speech that the proposed digital park and the water metro were state-sponsored projects that have not received any assistance from the Union government.
The ruling CPI(M) took it a step further, taking on Modi for his speech at the Yuvam conclave and accusing him and his party of spreading false propaganda on Kerala’s development.
“While spreading false information that Kerala lacks development, the Union government has not yet given the state government its rightful share of ₹40,000 crore. Unfortunately, a programme to disseminate false information was misappropriated at a prime minister’s event,” said M V Govindan, the state secretary of the party.
The Congress also plans a string of campaigns helmed by Rahul Gandhi to touch base with youth of the state, in mid-May.
Also read: BJP awaits PM’s visit to Kerala for major fillip in its outreach to minorities
Even though a Youth Congress worker staged a solo protest at the venue of the Yuvam conclave, and some Congress local leaders got apprehended in run up to the event, the prime minister’s visit turned out to be a showdown between the BJP and the ruling CPI(M), a narrative the saffron party would like to run in the coming days.
As of now, the BJP has managed to set off the agenda for the next elections and Modi’s visit has aided its efforts to ignite the campaign. But as far as the political conscience of Kerala is concerned, the Kerala BJP has many mountains to climb to get its presence felt in the lower house of the Parliament.