An article from The GroundTruth Project discusses how recent religious controversies and growing influence of the RSS—a right-wing, Hindu nationalist organization—might swing political support in India’s current election. It looks specifically at the state of Kerala, where non-Hindus compose more than 40% of the population compared to less than 20% in the rest of the nation.
KOCHI, India — Residents of Kochi, a coastal city in the southwestern state of Kerala, call it paradise. From its leftist government to its laid-back vibe, blue-chip schools, spas and wellness centers, the city is home to some 700,000 people with another 1.6 million in the greater metropolitan area.
But like Kerala, which bills itself as “God’s Own Country,” Kochi is a place of paradox. Marxists head both city and state governments, but religion is a vital aspect of local culture. And in the upcoming Indian election, religious issues may help swing some Kerala voters from opposing the current Hindu nationalist government to supporting it.
“The RSS has roots in Kerala,” said Anil Kumar, a Communist Party India (Marxist) supporter, about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing, Hindu nationalist organization that wants religion to dictate social policies and cultural standards. “Its sphere is influence is increasing.”
In the last year, several religious controversies have increased RSS influence in the city and state. Foremost were women’s protests against religiously-based gender and caste discrimination. Long-simmering tensions over beef-eating and religious conversion also are never far from the surface.
But throughout India, religion takes a backseat to economic issues, according to political observers who say the Modi government is vulnerable. The prime minister has not delivered on promises of job creation and aid to farmers. Unemployment is up and economic progress is slow. While these factors are at play in Kerala, recent events have added religiously-fueled, cultural anxieties to the mix.