Kummanam Rajasekharan, then president of the BJP in Kerala, leads a march in October 2017. The party is trying to improve its position ahead of state elections due in April. (Photo: IANS)
Leaders of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India's Kerala state have apologized to the southern state's bishops' council after some party members misused the council's logo to post an anti-Muslim message on social media.
The BJP's Kottayam district president Noble Mathew published a poster on social media using the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) logo. The local Malayalam-language poster said Catholics could not be used as a ladder for caliphate rule.
The poster went viral and many Christians shared it on social media until church leaders took note and issued a clarification disassociating the council from the post.
The poster featured the face of a prominent Muslim leader who is also a member of parliament from Kerala.
The Church's clarification said its officials had nothing to do with the post and the Church was not against Muslims. It said the poster was an attempt to create communal discord between Christians and Muslims.
BJP leaders settled the issue by tendering an apology to the Church as the political temperature heats up ahead of state elections due in April-May.
The BJP's state-level leader Jiji Joseph called on Father Jacob Palackappilly, deputy secretary of bishops' council, and tendered an "unconditional apology for the poster that created confusion and distrust among Christians," the priest said.
BJP leader Mathew, who created the poster, also met Father Palackappilly on Jan. 16, sought a pardon for his post and agreed to withdraw it, the priest told UCA News on Jan. 17.
"We are totally opposed to any political party or organization using our official logo for any purpose," Father Palackapilly said.
The priest said he had urged both the BJP leaders to educate their members not to use other organizations' logos and identities for political gains.
"Such practices could lead to communal disharmony and become an assault on our secular credentials," Father Palackallppilly said.
In recent months, Christians in Kerala are being viewed as moving closer to the BJP after some Catholic bishops sought federal government attention to the issue of "love jihad," which alludes that Muslim youths allegedly attract Christian women with the sole aims of converting them by marrying.
Christians also openly demanded federal social welfare benefits meant for religious minorities in Kerala state based on the population ratio of religious minorities — mostly Christians and Muslims.
Christian leaders say their members make up 18 percent of Kerala's 33 million people, while Muslims form 26 percent. However, some 80 percent of welfare funds are spent on Muslims, they allege.
"We indeed have disagreements with the Muslim community over the distribution of minority benefits and other issues, but that is no reason to project that Christians are against Muslims," Father Palackappilly added.
Some church leaders say the BJP was trying to gain Christians' political support in the upcoming state elections to improve its position of having only one member in the 140-seat state assembly.