Candidates pull out of poll race; BJP reaches out to Christians in Kerala

Mar 28, 2024 - 10:25
Candidates pull out of poll race; BJP reaches out to Christians in Kerala

At least four Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates for the April-June Lok Sabha polls have pulled out. The party has maintained silence over the developments even as candidates opting out of the poll race have said they have done so voluntarily. It follows a stringent process of identifying candidates, weighing factors such as caste and clout to determine winnability.

On Sunday, the party changed two candidates in Gujarat following demands from other contenders. Hemang Joshi replaced Vadodara Member of Parliament Ranjanben Bhatt, who was fielded for the third time. Shobhnaben Baraiya will contest from Sabarkantha in place of Bhikhaji Thakor, a first-time contestant. Bhatt and Thakor cited “personal reasons” for opting out.

The party is believed to have replaced the candidates to pick more formidable ones with an eye on winning all 26 seats in Gujarat, a BJP stronghold, and meeting the target of winning 370 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats.

Actor-singer Pawan Singh this month went back upon his announcement that he would not contest from West Bengal’s Asansol following opposition to his candidature. The BJP is yet to clarify if he will still contest. The party’s candidate from Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki Upendra Singh Rawat pulled out after his objectionable pictures were posted online. Rajrani Rawat has replaced Singh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led an outreach to win over the Christian minority in Kerala to make inroads into the state. Over the past year and a half, the party has attempted to foster ties with the community through interactions between senior party functionaries and community representatives and publicised courtesy calls between Modi and Church leaders.

The nomination of just one Christian candidate—Anil Anthony from Pathanamthitta—has cast a shadow over the outreach towards the community, which accounts for the state’s 18% electorate. The BJP is contesting 16 of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats. Bharath Dharma Jana Sena, a BJP ally, is contesting the remaining four.

A section of party leaders has flagged the overlooking of more Christian candidates. A senior leader, however, said the party is identifying potential candidates from the community for the 2026 assembly polls.

The BJP has been unable to win Lok Sabha seats in the state although its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, runs its largest network in the state. The network has sought to nurture a support base for the BJP besides countering the communist ideology.

The BJP has sought to reach out to the Christians to overcome the losing streak although its vote share has been rising. The merger of P C George’s Kerala Janapaksham (Secular) with the BJP and outreach programmes such as the Sneha Samvaad (affectionate communication) around festivals including Christmas and Easter have been organised as a bridge between the party and the community.

A section of leaders has conveyed its dismay that George, a seven-time legislator and a prominent Christian face, was not fielded from Pathanamthitta.

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