Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Congress leaders on Friday criticised a Catholic bishop for making unsubstantiated claims that Muslims in the state had launched a “narcotic jihad” that lured members of other religious groups to become drug addicts.

“The narcotic jihad is the activity of spoiling the life of non-Muslims, particularly youths, by making them addicted to drugs,” Joseph Kallarangatt, a bishop of the Palai diocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said on Wednesday. “Various types of drugs are being used in ice-cream parlours, hotels and juice corners run by hardcore jihadis. They are using various types of drugs as a weapon to spoil non-Muslims.”

Speaking at Marth Mariam Pilgrim Church in Kottayam district on Wednesday, Kallarangatt also made a reference to “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory that had so far widely been espoused by Hindutva activists. They allege that through “love jihad”, Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.

In February 2019, the Centre had told the Lok Sabha that no case of “love jihad” had been reported by any of the central agencies.

Despite this, Kallarangatt on Wednesday claimed that the youth in Kerala were facing an unprecedented crisis due to “love jihad” and “narcotic jihad”.

The bishop claimed that many people have lost their jobs and left studies after becoming drug addicts due to “narcotic jihad”. He also alleged that “jihadis” were using “other weapons” as they cannot destroy non-Muslim communities by using arms in a democratic country like India.

“When the agenda is spreading religion and eradication of non-Muslims, the ways for attaining that agenda get manifested in different manners,” the bishop said.

The bishop also expressed his views against interfaith marriages without citing any evidence to back his claims.

“To ask what’s wrong with a man and woman from different communities loving each other is a simple question, he said, according to The Hindu. “But how such marriages are taking place and what happens to them afterward is indeed a grand question. Women are seen to directed towards compromising faith and then to terrorism. Our objection lies in here.”

On Friday, Vijayan said that the problem of addiction to narcotic substances did not affect any particular religion, The Times of India reported.

The Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, VD Satheesan, also condemned the bishop’s comments. In a Facebook post, the Congress leader said that community and spiritual leaders should not make statements that could hamper peace and mutual trust among people in the state.

“It is a grave mistake to count the number of crimes on the basis of caste and religion and blame any particular community for the same,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Kottayam-based organisation called the Mahallu Muslim Coordination Committee has sought police action against the bishop under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, News18 reported.

The provision pertains to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc.