BJP chief Amit Shah today began his three-day Kerala visit, amid a raging row in the state over a Central government notification banning sale of cattle in animal markets for slaughter. Shah, who arrived at the Nedumbassery International Airport near here this morning, was accorded a rousing welcome by hundreds of BJP workers. Accompanied by a bike rally organised by party workers, he later proceeded to a government guest house here. During his stay in Kochi, Shah would attend a meeting of the BJP state core committee before the state NDA meeting and meeting with bishops as part of efforts to win over a section of Christians in the state. The BJP leadership in Kerala hopes Shah’s meeting with bishops will help build bridges with the minority community, which accounts for 18-20 per cent of votes in the state.
The Hindu far right has often been at loggerheads with Christians over the hugely contentious issue of religious conversions. The party’s in-charge of the state H Raja had said the meeting is aimed at “understanding each other” and added that Shah would undertake an “in-depth” analysis of the organisational work in the state during his three-day stay. Shah is likely to flag the recent public slaughter of a calf by Youth Congress workers. The public butchering of a calf by Youth Congress leaders in Kerala last week to protest the Centre’s ban on sale and purchase of cattle at animal markets for slaughter has come in handy for him and he is likely to target the Congress, which has been on the defensive over the issue.
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However, it will be a tricky matter for BJP as beef is widely consumed in the state and a strident stand on the matter is unlikely to be of much help, especially while it attempts to woo Christians. Claiming that BJP was gaining ground in Kerala, Raja had said ‘a few popular people’ who had so far not been in politics are set to join it during Shah’s three-day visit. “The party has started gaining ground in Kerala. A few popular people who have so far not been in politics will be welcomed to BJP during Amit Shah’s Kerala visit,” he said.
“A few such cases are on the cards….Very popular people. Such people will also be joining BJP. Throughout the country, it has been happening and Kerala will not be an exception,” he had said. Kerala is important in BJP’s strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as Shah expects to win a chunk of its 20 seats after the party increased its vote share substantially to 16 per cent in the 2016 assembly polls. It, however, could win only one seat. The party had drawn a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Shah will attend various party programmes in Thiruvananthapuram tomorrow and the day after.