Fallout of ‘narcotic jihad’ claim: Its vote bank slipping, Congress looks at govt to bridge gap

On Tuesday, Leader of Opposition in Assembly V D Satheesan of the Congress asked the Pinarayi Vijayan government to convene a meeting of religious heads and leaders of political parties.

With its Muslim-Christian vote bank facing polarisation after Catholic bishop Joseph Kallarangatt’s “narcotics jihad” claim, the Congress in Kerala is looking at the state government to bridge the divide between two communities.

On Tuesday, Leader of Opposition in Assembly V D Satheesan of the Congress asked the Pinarayi Vijayan government to convene a meeting of religious heads and leaders of political parties.

“We don’t want to see the situation worsen. The government is a mute witness when tension is building up between the two communities,” he said. “Is the Chief Minister not aware of the hate campaign on social media platforms? This is an issue that requires the government’s urgent attention.”

Last Wednesday, Kallarangatt had claimed during a sermon that “narcotics jihad” is making non-Muslims, particularly the youth, addicted to drugs.

What is making the Congress jittery is that the party-led UDF will be left to bear the political fallout of the growing distrust between the two minority communities in the wake of that statement.

Both communities have been the mainstay of UDF. In the last Assembly elections, however, purported feelings against Muslims among a section of Christians, particularly Catholics, was seen as one of the factors that led to UDF’s defeat in many seats in central Kerala, eventually helping the CPI(M)-led LDF to retain power.

The death of veteran regional Christian party leader K M Mani, coupled with the exit of his Kerala Congress (M) from UDF, is also seen as having contributed to alienation of the Christian community.

Besides, the recent change of guard at the organisational and Parliamentary leadership of the party in Kerala, which led to the rise of Satheesan and party’s state unit chief K Sudhakaran have sent a long-standing Christian face — former CM Oommen Chandy — to the background. Before Chandy, party veteran A K Antony had filled that slot.

Now, it is up to the Sudhakaran-Satheesan duo to retain the Christian vote bank with the party.

Another factor that has made the Congress anxious, and indirectly led to exerting pressure on the government to broker peace between the communities, is the stepping in of BJP as the champion of the Church cause — the saffron party has been wooing central Kerala’s Christian vote bank. After Kallarangatt’s statements drew flak and protests from various quarters, the BJP immediately sprang to his support.

Sensing danger, the Congress has warned the Church to not fall prey to “Sangh agenda”.

The timing of the ‘narco jihad’ statement could not have been worse for the state Congress, coming at a time when UDF leaders were brokering peace between religious heads of the two communities.

IUML high-powered committee member Syed Sadiqali Shihab Thangal said his party has already called for restraint from both sides. “We, along with other Muslim organisations, are also looking for a dialogue with the Christian side,” he said.

Within the LDF, Kerala Congress (M), which had raised the “love jihad” issue in the run-up to the assembly polls, has already backed the bishop on narcotic jihad statements. Its chairman Jose K Mani has stated that by raising narcotic jihad, the bishop was exhorting the faithful to be vigilant against social evils.

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