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After Christian outreach, India’s Hindu nationalist party wins first seat in Kerala region

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained its first member of parliament in the southern Indian state of Kerala Tuesday, following a campaign to win over Christian voters.

Suresh Gopi, an actor turned politician, was declared the winner June 4 in the Thrissur constituency, one of Kerala’s 20 parliamentary constituencies.

The BJP, founded in 1980, had previously failed to gain any of Kerala’s seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament.

The BJP’s regional breakthrough came after an outreach campaign to the state’s influential Christian minority, who are typically wary of the party which insists that Hindutva, or “Hindu-ness,” is the bedrock of the country’s culture.

But while early general election results suggested that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on course for a third term, the BJP appeared to be struggling to win the necessary 272 seats to retain its national parliamentary majority — paving the way for a possible coalition government.

Kerala is home to around 6 million Christians, more than any other Indian state. The country’s most recent census, conducted in 2011, concluded 54.73% of Kerala’s population was Hindu, 26.56% Muslim, and 18.38% Christian.

According to Indian media, the BJP began to court Christian voters after failing to gain any seats in Kerala in the 2019 general election. Reportedly believing that the Hindu majority’s vote was too divided to provide a path to victory, the party sought support from religious minorities.

After surveying churches in the state — home to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church — BJP officials are said to have identified leaders possibly sympathetic to the party. They also sought to build support through house visits and community programs.

Narendra Modi has held several meetings with Church leaders in recent years. He was photographed warmly embracing Pope Francis in 2021.

The prime minister visited Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral on Easter Sunday 2023 and welcomed more than 100 Christian leaders to his official residence on Christmas Day. In February this year, he met with the new Syro-Malabar Church leader Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil.

Read more at The Pillar 

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