Express press service
KOCHI: Xavier P (name changed), from Kuravilangadu panchayat in the assembly constituency of Kaduthuruthy in central Kerala, has yet to decide who to vote for. “There is a certain resentment among the voters that Jose K Mani associates with a front (LDF) which tried to end the political life of (KM) Mani sir,” said the 73-year-old young man, who was installed in this predominantly rubber belt.
There is another factor weighing on his mind. If he votes the UDF in power, this will lead to the formation of a government where the Muslim League will get involved and be able to grab five ministerial posts, including perhaps a CM deputy post. In a message from the FB last December, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the League decides issues in Congress and the UDF.
The Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church in January last year called for an investigation into alleged incidents of Christian girls being lured into marriage for carrying out Islamic terrorist activities. The seething tension reached its peak after IUML chief Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, in an article in the Chandrika party daily last August, favored Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia to mosque. Syro-Malabar Christians, at around 24 lakh, form the largest group among Catholics in Kerala. They are also angered by the IUML, the second largest constituent of the UDF, which opposed the decision of the LDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan to implement a 10% reserve for economically weaker sections ( EWS) advanced communities in public employment and educational institutions. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) estimates that the quota would benefit hundreds of poor Syrian-Malabar Catholics, who fall under the advanced caste in Kerala.
Jose’s KC (M), the third largest constituent of the LDF postal seat allocation, hopes to repeat its incredible performance in civic body polls from last year – when it made inroads into strongholds in the ‘UDF in central Kerala, fighting power in Kottayam and Idukki district panchayats, in addition to winning several municipalities and panchayats – in assembly elections. LDF is counting on Jose’s KC (M) to do a rubber-belt recall after allocating up to 11 party seats.
“We believe that the Church played a decisive role in severing its ties with the UDF. We also have information that key Church leaders were directly involved in the nomination of candidates for the KC (M) from Jose to Chalakudy and Perumbavoor, ”said Shyju Antony, central committee member of Almaya Munnettam (Lay movement) in Koratty. “The Catholic Church ensures that she has a say in whoever comes to power,” he said.
Writer Paul Zachariah, an observer close to the Church of Kerala, said the late KM Mani had never represented the Church. “Mani and his relatives prospered. The Church used Mani and Mani used the Church, ”he said. Zachariah thinks the Church would have no problem dealing with the UDF or the LDF, but she still wonders how to get closer to the BJP.
Regarding the tension between the two communities, sources said that the appointment of former CM Oommen Chandy as head of the Congress Electoral Strategy Team in Kerala in mid-January had eased the situation in a to some extent. Leaders of the League led by PK Kunhalikutty met with Church leaders, including Archbishop Thamarassery Remigos Inchananiyil and the principal archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Cardinal Mar Baselious Cleemis, to resolve any misunderstandings.
Last month Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, praised the LDF government’s efforts in handling the Covid pandemic in Kerala, in an indirect endorsement from the ruling front. “When faced with a crisis, people break up, but what makes Kerala happy is the fact that the CM and the Minister of Health were able to take the crisis as a challenge and turn it into a opportunity to excel, ”said Alenchery, who is also head of KCBC, had said.
KCBC, however, made its official position via a statement Thursday. He urged the faithful and society to vote for the ideal candidates after analyzing their development plans. He also said he took an open stance towards political parties.
The Catholic Church of Kerala was at the forefront of overthrowing the EMS Namboothiripad government, the first government elected in India, in 1959 by the infamous “Vimochana Samaram” (liberation struggle). As Kerala heads to the polls next month, the Catholic Church’s relations with the Communists may come to a close.
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