With the controversy over 'love and narcotic jihad' remark by Pala bishop Joseph Kallarangatt refusing to die down, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday engaged in a fresh round of verbal sparring, trading charges against each other over the issue.
Addressing devotees during a church celebration at Kuravilangad in Kottayam district last week, the bishop had said that as part of the 'love jihad', non-Muslim girls, especially those belonging to the Christian community, were largely being converted 'after trapping them in love, exploiting and misusing them for destructive activities like terrorism.'
While the Congress on Monday charged the BJP with trying to derive political mileage by dividing society along religious lines, using the Bishop's statement, the BJP leaders met the senior priest at his diocese in Pala expressing solidarity with him and alleged that the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist were taking positions favouring extremist elements creating troubles, instead of addressing the concerns raised by him.
Alleging that that 'deliberate attempts' were being made to destroy the communal harmony of the state through various social media platforms, Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala assembly V D Satheesan shot off a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, urging him to launch a probe into the efforts by the forces trying to divide people sowing seeds of communalism through Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, using fake IDs.
Talking to reporters in Malappuram, he accused the ruling Left of remaining a 'mute spectator' over the issue.
In an apparent reference to the bishop's allegations, the senior Congress leader also said that if any community organisations or their leaders had complained or expressed concern about any particular incident, it should also be investigated.
Strongly backing the bishop over his remarks, BJP's national executive member P K Krishnadas and state vice president A N Radhakrishnan met the senior priest at the Pala diocese on Monday and accused the CPI-M and Congress of 'whitewashing' the activities of 'extremist forces' in the state.
Instead of launching an investigation and taking appropriate legal action if any extremist forces engage in 'love and narcotic jihad' in the state, as alleged by the bishop, the chief minister and the opposition leader took steps favouring such forces, Krishnadas alleged.
Talking to various television channels, Goa Governor P S Sreedharan Pillai said he had discussed the matter with the Pala bishop and the concerns raised by the priest has to be addressed. Pillai, who enjoys cordial relations with various church groups in the state, indicated that he would take up the matter with the Centre.
In his letter to the chief minister, Satheesan, said it was a matter of grave concern that efforts are being made, both covertly and openly, to destroy the religious harmony and social cohesion of Kerala.
He alleged that there was a conscious effort to create large-scale divisions, rivalries and mistrust among different religions in the state.
"Social media platforms are used for this. Messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram, as well as Facebook and YouTube, are being misused by some to carry out misinformation campaign", he said and urged Vijayan to seriously investigate and punish such 'elements'.
"We support all good efforts to preserve the peaceful atmosphere, religious harmony and social cohesion of Kerala," he said.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran urged the state government to convene an all-party meet and a meeting of the community religious leaders to resolve the issues and end the BJP's 'political exploitation' by creating tension between communities.
Meanwhile, the Nair Service Society, an outfit of Kerala's forward Nair community, on Monday expressed concern over the incidents of forced religious conversions taking place in many parts of Kerala after luring girls into the trap of love.
In a statement, NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair said both the state and the central governments should take steps to curb those engaging in such inhuman anti-national activities.
He, however, said it is not correct to give any religious or communal colour for such activities.
Nair also called for collective efforts by all sections to end the tendency of putting the country into danger by creating religious hatred and division in society.
Meanwhile, Joseph Perumthottam, the archbishop of the Changanasserry archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church, on Monday supported the Pala bishop, urging the government to end the menace of 'narcotic terrorism' in Kerala.
In an article in the church organ Deepika daily on Monday, he said many families have collapsed after their girls who fell into the trap of love were misused for drug trafficking, religious terrorism, smuggling and prostitution.
He said with the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, the possibility of Kerala becoming a hub of drug smuggling is very high and urged the government to take steps to end 'narcotic terrorism' in the state.
The controversial 'love and narcotic jihad' remarks by Kallarangatt triggered ripples in Kerala's political circles as the BJP accused the CPI-M and the Congress of supporting jihadis, while the latter warned against "Sangh Parivar agenda" to destroy Christian-Muslim harmony in Kerala.
Amid mounting criticism, the Pala diocese, under the the prominent Syro-Malabar church, on Saturday had come out with an explanation, saying that the bishop did not intend to hurt anyone and his remarks were not against any particular community.
Urging all communities to view seriously the actions of fringe elements indulging in radical and anti-social activities using the names and symbols of religion, the diocese also shared the message of going forward unitedly ending all misleading propaganda.
While the Congress had said the bishop crossed limits, the BJP supported him by urging the society to discuss the statement.
Condemning Bishop Kallarangatt's statement, the CM had on Friday said those who hold responsible positions should refrain from making statements causing divisions in society.