By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The concerted attempts to communalise Pala Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt’s remark that jihadists were trapping women of other religions through ‘love’ and ‘narcotic’ jihad to convert them and use them for terror activities, must be defeated.
Not surprisingly, the BJP is using the issue as a golden opportunity to make inroads into the minority communities. BJP state president K. Surendran has said that what the Bishop has said is a relevant issue. There was strong evidence for the existence of ‘narcotic jihad’. Surendran also accused the Congress-headed United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) of criticising the Bishop to appease extremists. Union Minister V. Muralidharan identified himself with the opinion voiced by Surendran and wanted the LDF Government to hand over to the Union Government whatever information it had on the issue.
In a clear attempt to curry favour with the Christian community, a BJP delegation led by former party state president P K Krishnadas and general secretary A N Radhakrishnan met Bishop Kallarangatt to express the party’s solidarity with him. Krishnadas also demanded a probe into the issues raised by the Bishop. It is clear that the BJP-RSS wants to cash in on the matter politically, especially in the backdrop of the BJP’s dismal performance in the State Assembly elections.
Realising the dangerous move by communal forces to disrupt communal harmony in the State, the Congress has initiated moves – the right thing to do – to defuse the tension. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K Sudhakaran and leader of the opposition V D Satheesan called on various Christian and Muslim leaders. The Congress leaders met Changanassery Archbishop Mar Joseph Perumthottam, Thazhathangadi Juma Masjid imam Shamsudeen Mannani Ilavupalam. They also had a meeting with Sunni and Mujahid leaders besides the Pala Bishop and CSI central Kerala diocese Bishop Dr. Malayil Sabu Koshy Cherian in an effort to find an amicable resolution to the issues raised by the Pala Bishop. The party has also decided to convene a meeting of religious leaders to discuss the issue. Of course, the Congress’s peace mission has a twin objective: regain the ground it had lost among the Christian community and prevent the BJP from making inroads into the Christian vote bank.
In contrast, a meeting Minister of cooperation V N Vasavan had with the Pala Bishop, who is in the eye of the storm, has evoked strong criticism from a section of Muslim leaders. It may ne mentioned that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said initially that religious leaders should refrain from making divisive statements. However, later he said that while the term “narcotic jihad’ was not proper, the Pala Bishop had every right to highlight the dangers faced by his community, in a clear balancing act. CPI(M) acting state secretary followed it up with a statement that the Pala Bishop, however, had no ulterior motive in using the term ‘narcotic jihad’.
In an indirect reference to the Government’s ambivalence on the issue, AP Sunni faction’s leader Kanthapuram Aboobacker Musaliar, close to the CPI(M), said he does not know what the stand of the Government is. He also wanted the Pala Bishop to withdraw his comment. “There is no need for mediation in the matter. The person who made a false statement should withdraw it himself,” Kanthapuram added. Kanthapuram’s indirect criticism must cause concern to the LDF as he is considered a pro-LDF Muslim leader. The LDF Government is in no position to antagonize Kanthapuram, who is a highly influential Muslim leader.
Meanwhile, tension flared up with the Thamarassery diocese publishing a handbook which said the Muslim community is encouraging conversion of Christian girls to Islam. The controversial portion in the handbook were, however, removed after a delegation of Muslim leaders led by Indian Union Muslim League(IUML) leader M K Muneer met the Thamarassery Bishop Mar Remigiose Inchananiyil.
Minister Vasavan’s meeting with the Pala Bishop, however, came in for criticism from Samastha Kerala Jamiyathul Ulema. An article published by ‘Suprabhatham’ daily, the mouthpiece of Samastha, wanted to know whether the Minister’s visit was “to sing Hallelujah to the controversial preacher at Pala”, adding that it was a shameful and deplorable attempt to give a clean chit to the Bishop who had made the ‘controversial’ remark. Samastha, it may be mentioned, is the main supporter of the IUML, a coalition partner of Congress in the UDF.
In a heart-warming development, nuns at the Kuruvilangad convent walked out of an alleged “hate speech” against Muslims delivered by a priest at their chapel at St Francis Mission home. The nuns who staged the walkout were Sr Anupama, Sr Alphy, Sr Ancitta and Sr Josephine. Sr Anupama later said it was wrong on the part of the priest to spread enmity against a community. They walked out as they could not stand the speech which was against the teachings of Jesus Christ. Significantly, the four nuns had earlier held a protest in Kochi seeking the arrest of rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
The nuns said this was not the first time the priest was delivering anti-Muslim speeches. He had asked them to stop buying vegetables from Muslims and avoid travelling by autorickshaws they drive. The nuns said they never had any bad experience while interacting with Muslims. They also gratefully remembered the Muslim police officers who came for their protection at the convent. It is gratifying to note that a section of priests and nuns have supported the stand of the four nuns. Many are not openly coming in support as they fear the consequences of taking an open stand against the priests or bishops.
In yet another development, the Nair Service Society (NSS) also came out with a statement that voiced utmost concern at forced conversion of girls. The statement said terrorist activity of forced religious conversion of girls using the weapon of love and other means is a matter of concern. The State and the Union Governments, the NSS said, have a responsibility to find out and quell such elements, the statement added. There should be attempts cutting across religious and caste barriers to oppose efforts aimed at promoting hatred among communities, the statement concluded.
There is no escaping the conclusion that determined attempts are being made to vitiate the communal atmosphere in Kerala, known for communal harmony and secular politics. Therefore, the need of the hour is for all parties to exercise utmost restraint in word and deed. The Government must take all steps to maintain communal amity and punish the hate-mongers and promoters of religious hatred. The political parties should avoid, like the plague, the proclivity to demonise particular communities over isolated incidents. As a first step, the Government must convene an all-party meeting to discuss the situation arising out of the remarks made by the Pala Bishop. (IPA Service)