Kerala Elections 2021: NDA promises autonomy of temples and laws against “love-jihad”

The BJP as part of the National Democratic Alliance proposes to do away with the Devaswom regulatory boards for temples, along with implementing laws against “Love-Jihad”

VISHRUTHI GIRISH | March 26, 2021

The National Democratic Alliance in Kerala with the BJP at the helm promises autonomy of all Hindu temples in its election manifesto for the 2021 Legislative Assembly Elections, also proposing to bring laws against “Love-Jihad”, earning them the reputation of being the “only party for Kerala Hindus”.

Additionally, the NDA also stands against the 2018 Supreme Court verdict allowing women inside the Sabarimala temple, thus furthering the cause of protecting religious rights of Hindus and opposing the LDF. BJP leader K Surendran has been actively campaigning against the verdict since its ruling.

Temple autonomy

The five Devaswom boards – the State-run socio-religious institutions across districts – are responsible for the management and regulation of the over 3000 temples and their assets in Kerala. Hindu temples in Kerala are among India’s richest, with the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Travancore being the richest temple in the country, with a net worth of Rs. 1,20,000 crores.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy in the year 2018 filed a petition in the Supeme Court demanding to abolish the Devaswom system in Kerala and give autonomy back to the religious trusts that originally managed them. Such demands across different states have culminated as the #FreeTemples movement that is now garnering attention in Tamil Nadu.

The #FreeTemples movement primarily questions the discriminatory nature of the system that enables government control over Hindu religious institutions, while Christian and Muslim institutions are independent of state control as per Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, that protect religious rights of minorities. Moreover, freedom of religion is a fundamental right as per Article 26.

Love-Jihad

The NDA’s Kerala manifesto also carries promises to enforce laws against “Love-Jihad”, a term popularized by the BJP at the Centre for forced conversion by Muslims through marriage with non-Muslims. The BJP alleges that Love-Jihad originated in the state of Kerala, where Hindus are a majority by only a small origin, and Christians and Muslims are a significant population.

Love-Jihad as a concept originated in the state of Kerala in 2009, when marriage of Muslim men with non-Muslim women was viewed as a threat by not only Hindus, but also by conservative Christian groups such as the Christian Association for Social Action.

The idea of inter-religious marriages involving Muslims was seen through the lens of religious conversion, when the Kerala High Court in 2009 began an investigation into these marriages. Based on its findings, Congress leader Oomen Chandy stated in 2012 that the number of non-Muslim women in these marriages were 33 times more than the number of Muslim women married to non-Muslim men, which hinted at the probable agenda of conversion.  

The Syro-Malabar Church and the Kerala Minority Commission since 2019 have declared Love-Jihad as an open threat to Christians, with the latter having expressed its concern through a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.