Kerala brimming with confidence

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Kerala brimming with confidence

Sunday, 30 April 2023 | Kumar Chellappan

Kerala brimming with confidence

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2-day tour of Kerala has sown the seeds of a paradigm shift in the political landscape in the God’s Own Country as the Church leadership and the Christian community have grown weary of the appeasement politics of both the Congress and Communist governments and they are yearning for a positive change, writes Kumar Chellappan 

He came, he saw and he conquered: That’s one way of describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind tour of Kerala on Monday and Tuesday. Though he had visited the State as the chief minister of Gujarat and as the Prime Minister in the past, those tours did not cause this much excitement among the Kerala population.

From the moment he landed at Indian Navy’s airport at Kochi on Monday evening, till he boarded the special aircraft from Thiruvananthapuram, the regional TV news channels were overexcited as if Modi was coming to Kerala for the first time. News channels in Malayalam, dominated by card holding members and propagandists of CPI(M) and Jamaat-e-Islami had specialised in toning down news about the Prime Minister. It was a different approach this time.

Modi’s public meeting on Monday was held at Sacred Heart College, Thevara, set up in 1944 by the Catholic Church. This was a signal that politics in Kerala is in for a change. His roadshow from the airport to the venue literally caught the CPI(M) and the Congress leadership off guard. People in the State have seen Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan speeding through the roads accompanied by a cavalcade of at least 50 SUVs and sirens blowing police vehicles and ambulances since 2016. But at no point of time, Vijayan has interacted with the people anywhere in Kerala. The police insist that people should not wear black shirts or saris in areas visited by Vijayan. Even black coloured masks are forbidden in the State. There were many instances in the recent past when people wearing black shirts or costumes or masks were kept away from venues hosting Chief Minister Vijayan. It is against this backdrop that Modi walked 1. 5 km without any unusual security cover and that too despite threat letters issued by various extremist organisations that he would be targeted.

Modi met heads of various factions of the Church after his interaction with the youth. It is not known what transpired in the meeting, though one of the bishops told the media that the price of rubber came up for discussion. While addressing the Kerala Catholic Farmers, Metropolitan Archbishop Joseph Pamplani of Thalasseri Archdiocese had declared that the Christian community in the State would vote for the BJP if the Centre hikes the price of rubber to Rs 300 per kg. This literally shocked the Congress and the CPI(M) leadership. While MV Govindan, the boss of the CPI(M) lambasted the Archbishop in the harshest of words, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly VD Satheesh scoffed at the spiritual leader for crossing the Lakshman Rekha in politics.

Pamplani’s statement was in continuation of a statement made by Mar Joseph Kallarangattu of Pala Diocese in April 2022 that extremists were administering narcotics among Hindu and Christian girls in the State. The CPI(M)-led Kerala Government filed a FIR against the Bishop on charges of creating religious animosity among different communities in the State. But the BJP, which was waiting for a chance to build a bridge between the party and the Christian vote bank, saw the potential in the Bishop’s statement and declared their support to him.

A probe took The Pioneer to the heart of the matter. The Church runs nearly hundred de-addiction centres across Kerala and details of those getting admitted to these centres speak the truth. Majority of the girls were from Hindu families while there has been an alarming increase in the number of Christian girls falling prey to drugs. “It is by making the victims addicts to drugs, these jehadi get them converted to Islam and take them to ISIS-dominated areas,” said Kevin Peter, convener, Christian Alliance and Association for Social Action (CAASA), an umbrella organisation formed to safeguard the interests of various Christian sects in the country.

The Church in Kerala never had any kind of ties with the Sangh Parivar as the latter is against religious conversions undertaken by the priests and evangelists in the State. During the tenure of K Sudarshan as RSS chief, a channel of communication was opened between the Sangh and the Church. Leaders of RSS held many rounds of meetings with a section of the Church leaders led by Joseph Pulikkunnel, a theologist and editor of Hosana monthly. But there was no progress in these discussions.

While the CPI(M), the Congress and the Muslim League took strong objections to the comments by some of the bishops over love jehad featuring Christian girls, the BJP stood behind the spiritual leaders and shared their apprehension over the elopement of Christian girls with Muslim boys. When activists of the banned outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) chopped the hand of Prof TJ Joseph, for his alleged comments against Prophet Muhammad, the Sangh Parivar was the lone organisation that extended its hands to the victim as the Left intelligentsia maintained silence over the gruesome incident.

The refusal of the CPI(M) and the Congress-led governments to provide reservation to Christians while the Muslim community walked away with the entire benefits antagonised the Church. The ban on SIMI and PFI resulted in the activists of these outfits joining the CPI(M) and later redesigning of the rules of the Special Marriages Act in the State to help the Islamists perform the marriage in secret. “KT Jaleel, former minister of higher education, was the undisputed leader of SIMI and had campaigned across the State with the slogan India’s Liberation is only through Islam. His social media posts strengthen the charge that his loyalty is still with the extremists,” said Kevin Peter.

Though the Centre has banned PFI, the Pinarayi Vijayan Government has not taken any action against the outfit. Prof Stanly Sebastian, an educationist, says the campuses in Kerala have been taken over by the PFI and the SDPI (political wing of PFI) and they operate through the SFI, the student wing of the CPI(M). “Green Light, a WhatsApp collective in Kerala Police, is full of jehadi and Islamic terrorists. Kerala has become a safe haven for the terrorists and this was proved by the arson in Alappuzha-Kannur Janasadabdi Express resulting in the death of three persons. Though the jehadi was held by Maharashtra Police and handed over to the Kerala Police, the latter is yet to make any breakthrough in the probe,” said Prof Sebastian.

It is an undisputed fact that there is a thaw in the ties between the Church and the BJP. “The BJP has accommodated as many Christians as possible in its organisational structure as well as in tributary organisations. This is a welcome signal and we need not doubt about their intentions,” said Jaison Mazhuvancherry, a devout Christian and BJP activist in Pulluvazhi, the CPI(M) stronghold.

KT Paily, a former Indian Railway official and community leader, says there is a discernible change among the Christians towards the BJP. “But I may not guarantee that this would lead to the transfer of votes to the party. During Sunday congregations and social functions, community members express their satisfaction over the track record of the Modi Government,” said Paily.

But the State leadership of the BJP is handicapped by the absence of a charismatic person to lead the party. “The present leadership has to go and Kerala should get someone like K Annamalai of Tamil Nadu. The BJP in Kerala is a house divided with each leader operating as a separate party,” said a national executive member.

While the State leadership failed to build bridges with potential allies, CP Radhakrishnan, former prabhari of the State, (present Governor of Jharkhand) went out of his way and communicated with the leaders of the Church. Radhakrishnan’s style was distinct. He pointed out to the community leaders about the contributions made by veteran IAS and defence services personnel to the nation and asked them to be part of the Hindutva party. This has yielded some results as a former director general of police, Dr Jacob Thomas, campaigned openly for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and 2021 Assembly polls.

Yet another pat on the back of the BJP came from Cardinal George Alencherry, the 78-year old “shepherd” of the community, who said in an interaction with a Kerala-based daily that Christians do not feel insecure in India. While agreeing with reports that the community members were being attacked by Hindu zealots in north India, he said most of such reports were exaggerated ones. But that does not smoothen the ties between the BJP and the Church. Evangelisation is the identity of Christianity and the Church is unlikely to compromise with the demand of Hindus that there should be a law banning conversion by persuasion and pecuniary benefits. 

Prof E Balakrishnan, author of History of Communist Movement in Kerala, says that the time has come for cooperation between the Hindus and Christians in India. “The Christians are facing an identity crisis as the community’s population has gone down while the Muslim population in India is always on the rise. The day is not far off when they will overtake the Hindu population. The Hindus and Christians are dependent on each other. This is not to portray the Muslims in poor light. Globally, they evoke a sense of fear and their intolerance to other religions is the biggest threat to secularism,” said Prof Balakrishnan.

It is easier said than done as there are burning issues which remain between Mandir and Church. The RSS does not accept the theory of St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ who had come to Kerala. Then, there is the process of evangelisation, the raison d’etre of Christianity. Mohammed himself has gone to meet the Mountain sans anyone from Kerala.  One has to wait till 2024 to know whether the Mountain budged to facilitate the pilgrim’s progress.

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