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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.

The Indian actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi. Photo from

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.

Suresh Gopi — a star of movies in Malayalam, Kerala’s predominant language —  initially stood for the Thrissur seat in 2019, but came third. In the 2024 election, he won with 37.8% of the vote, ahead of candidates from the Communist Party of India and the Indian National Congress.

At the time of writing, Thrissur was the only seat in Kerala won by the BJP. Observers suggested that Gopi’s victory was due not only to the party’s Christian outreach strategy, but also local factors, including the Congress Party’s surprise decision not to field the constituency’s sitting member of parliament in the 2024 election. Another element was Gopi’s personal popularity and reputation for philanthropy.

The actor also sought to appeal Christian voters. In January, he crowned a statue of the Virgin Mary at Our Lady Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral in Thrissur. The Syro-Malabar cathedral is one of Kerala’s largest churches. But Gopi’s gesture provoked controversy, with political rivals claiming that the crown was made from gold-plated copper, rather than solid gold.

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India’s more than 1.4 billion-strong population went to the ballot box in seven waves between April 19 and June 1 to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha. 

The world’s biggest election was widely predicted to deliver a landslide victory for Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP.

If the BJP loses its majority, the party would have to turn to other members of the alliance to form a government.

A map showing the seven phases of India’s April 19-June 1 general election. Saad Ali Khan Pakistan via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0). 

Since Modi came to power in 2014, representatives of India’s religious minorities have complained of rising intolerance. 

At the start of 2024, the advocacy group Open Doors named India as the 11th worst country in the world in which to be a Christian, describing persecution levels as “extreme.” 

The United Christian Forum for Human Rights, an Indian ecumenical monitoring group, recorded 161 cases of anti-Christian discrimination and persecution in the first 75 days of this year.

Almost 30% of the incidents occurred in Chhattisgarh, a central state notorious for anti-Christian animus, but threats were recorded in 19 out of India’s 28 states.

In February, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) expressed alarm at the worsening climate.

“There is an unprecedented religious polarization which is harming the cherished social harmony in our country and endangering democracy itself,” noted the body bringing together India’s Latin Catholic, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara bishops. 

Ahead of the elections, the CBCI declared a day of prayer and fasting for peace and harmony in the country. 

The bishops also highlighted the preamble of India’s constitution, which envisages the country as a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” committed to justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity.

“We urge all citizens to enroll as voters and exercise their sacred duty to vote wisely so that we elect leaders who are committed to constitutional values and to the uplift of the poor,” they said.

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