THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The statements by two influential bishops of the Catholic Church on rubber prices and support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have taken the political parties in the State by surprise. If the offer is backed by various Christian bodies, it could signal a paradigm shift in Kerala politics.
The first salvo was fired by Thalassery Archbishop Joseph Pamplany who said the other day that farmers in the state will help the BJP to elect its first Member of Parliament from Kerala if the Union Government increases the price of rubber to Rs 300 per kg! At present, rubber is being traded in the range of Rs 130-150. The very next day, Thamarassery Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil extended his support to the offer.
It may be mentioned that the BJP has been straining every nerve to enlist the support of Christians in the State in an effort to expand the party’s base in Kerala. The BJP’s efforts have not succeeded so far. Hence the latest attempt by the party through the two Bishops to cosy up to the Christian community. Significantly, there arfe reports that a few BJP leaders had a meeting with Pamplany days before he made his statement. The BJP sees in the offer an opportunity to win the backing of both the 21-lakh strong Syrian Christian community and the Jacobites, who number 11 lakh. The BJP also perceives a willingness within a section of the Christian community to align with the saffron camp.
There are, however, signs that the BJP will find it difficult to enlist the support of the Christians in the State. For instance, the Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council (KCBC) has denied any move to align the community with the BJP. A spokesman of the KCBC has said that Pamplany’s offer was not to support the BJP. It was just a call to political parties to address the urgent concerns of the farmers in the State.
As his statement has created a controversy, Pamplany himself tried to explain that his remark was not the official stand of the church. He said her was only trying to say that the farmers would support whoever offers to help them.
As expected, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress headed United Democratic Front(UDF) have reacted sharply to Pamplany’s statement. In his reaction, CPI(M)state secretary M V Govindan said it is not possible for the Christian community to align itself with the communal BJP. Only last month, he said 79 organisations had staged a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi against the attacks on minorities by the RSS and other Sangh Parivar outfits across the nation.
The protest was attended, among others, by Christian priests and nuns from various states, including Kerala. They had also submitted a memorandum to the Union Government drawing its attention to the attacks in as many as 598 places. If the Christian community decides to ignore all this and goes ahead with its align-with-BJP move, it won’t be effective in Kerala, Govindan said.
The Congress also said it was an emotional reaction after seeing the plight of the rubber farmers. Too much need not be read into it, said leader of the opposition V D Sathees, adding that the last few years had witnessed attacks on over 500 churches in the country.
Needless to say, the BJP’s minority-wooing exercise has been undertaken following the call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that efforts should be made to woo the minorities. He said if the move fructifies, the BJP would form a government in Kerala as well. The ground reality is, however, different. It would be a Herculean task for the saffron forces to win the trust of the minorities given the demonization of the minorities the BJP has been indulging in with gusto over the years.
That said, a word of caution is in order. The secular parties cannot allow themselves to be lulled into a sense of complacency in the wake of the Bishops’ offer to the BJP. The LDF Government will have to take steps to further cement ties with the Christian communities in the State. Likewise, the Congress also has to be wary of the bishops’ move as it could erode its already-weakened base among the Christian community. As Jawaharlal Nehru said eternal vigilance is the need of the hour to halt the onward march of communal forces in a state steeped in the secular ethos like Kerala. (IPA Service)