Comprehensive laws against forceful religious conversion and ‘love jihad’ and the protection of Sabarimala temple customs weigh more than the development and welfare measures that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) promises in its Assembly election manifesto for Kerala. On Wednesday, the NDA released its manifesto for the upcoming Assembly polls in Kerala, which is scheduled to be held on April 6. In a press meet held in Thiruvananthapuram, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar announced the manifesto.
While there are a list of development promises, the BJP-led front has highlighted promises related to faith, as in its manifesto for Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal, the other states that are going to polls this year. The manifesto promises to bring all temples under the administration of devotees and take measures to make Kerala terrorism-free.
Among the list of the development and welfare measures, the NDA promises to increase the pension by 10% every year, free laptops for students, treatment expenses of the Endosulfan victims and ‘Namo’ food outlets in all panchayats that will give breakfast and dinner at subsidised rates. The NDA also promises action against the investigation officers who investigated the Walayar sisters’ death case, in view of the allegation raised by the deceased girls’ parents and concerns raised by the court.
The NDA has also announced that it will prohibit forceful religious conversions once it comes to power. The manifesto also says legislation will be brought against ‘love jihad’. ‘Love jihad’ is a term propagated by right-wing groups, which claim that Muslim men target Hindu women and forcefully convert them into Islam through marriage.
Multiple BJP ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, too, have brought legislation against religious conversions. However, the right-wing conspiracy has not been proven yet, even in the states where interfaith couples were booked under the state law. The Union government, too, had said in the Parliament that the ‘love jihad’ is not recognised by law and that none of the central agencies have reported such cases.
Incidentally, the manifesto also mentions that ‘Islamic banks that are focused on communal interest will be prohibited.’
Another significant poll promise of the NDA is about the development of Sabarimala temple and the protection of its customs. “A comprehensive legislation will be brought for the protection of faith. An authority will be formed for the comprehensive development of Sabarimala,” it states.
Devaswom Administrative Committee for Sabarimala will be constituted, which will include the chief priest (tantri) and representatives of the Pandalam palace, Devaswom Board and devotees’ organisations.
The manifesto also promises to develop Sreerama temple in Sabarimala. “Acres of land sprawled over Sabarimala Sannidhanam and Pampa under the Devaswom board will be converted into an environmental-friendly space. Maximum facilities will be provided for the devotees of Sabarimala in terms of drinking water, accomodation, treatment and toilets,” the BJP says in its poll promise. The BJP also promises to expand the existing elephant shelter and cow shelter at Guruvayur temple.
The BJP also promises to introduce a law, as per the recommendation of KP Sankaran Nair Commission, for temples controlled by devotees and free of any intervening by any of the political parties. It also promises to take urgent action to recover lost land of temples.
The manifesto has also given a focus to a list of measures that the BJP will undertake to curb terrorism and related activities, if it comes to power. An anti-terrorism sqaud will be formed to effitively curb terrorism. “Measures will be taken to stop the propagation of terrorism through religious, social and educational groups and media,” it states. A special unit will be formed to investigate the murders by religious extremists, says the BJP in Kerala.
The BJP manifesto also announces welfare measures ranging from increasing welfare pension to Rs 3,500 to the distribution of free laptops to students. “Welfare pensions will be increased to Rs 3,500. There will be a 10% increase per year. Prisoners during the Emergency period, too, will be ensured pension,” it says. For children and students, the BJP says that “all high school students will be given free laptops. Children below five years of age, who are going to Anganwadis, will be given free milk.”
Bedridden patients from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families will receive an amount of Rs 5,000. BJP also promises to take over all the treatment expenses of Endosulfan victims and construct houses for those who are homeless among them. ‘Namo’ food outlets will be started across all panchayats, which will offer breakfast and dinner at Rs 10 and lunch at Rs 20.
The NDA has also highlighted that it will make changes in certain existing rules pertaining to the state government administration. This includes cutting short government administrative expenses by 30% and stopping pension for personal staff of ministers.
> Development of core districts: Thiruvananthapuram will be developed as core district of Information Technology (IT); Kottayam as an education hub; Ernakulam as industries port; Kozhikode as health care center and Thrissur as the cultural hub.
> A navy-rail and water transport hub by incorporating Parvathy Puthanar, Thiruvananthapuram airport, Veli railway station and Sanghumugham.
> In the tourism sector, the NDA promises to avail world-class facilities for tourists by developing tourism to international standards.