It is not a secret that the Church in Kerala has always stood by the Congress party during elections. I have heard a story, that in the early days, during the Sunday sermon, the priest would raise his “hand” up in the air and say “every one should vote“. The raised hand was to indicate that the faithful should vote for Congress party, without openly campaigning for it. I am not sure how authentic this story is, but this was to point out the close alliance between the Congress party and the Church in Kerala.
In my days, I have seen politicians making frequent visits to the Vicars of Churches in their constituency as part of their campaigns. It was also during this time that the late Bishop of Thrissur, Mar. Joseph Kundukulam, compared K Karunakaran to Jesus Christ (I wrote an article in those days against the Bishop’s statement, in a handwritten magazine published by CLC – a Catholic youth organization). K Karunakaran’s friendship with Bishop Kundukulam was very infamous in those days.
Time flew and the Church softened it’s stand against Communists. But it did not last long. With the 7th standard text book and the self-finance college issues, the Church went on a rampant campaign against the Communists, under the leadership of Thrissur Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazhath and Changanassery Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil. Now that the elections are approaching, different Churches in Kerala are taking different steps to make sure that they get a fair share of the political pie. But surprisingly, the Congress party chose not to play with the tunes of the Church.
First it was the Thrissur Archbishop, Mar Andrews Thazhath, who supported the candidature of Tom Vadakkan for Thrissur constituency. But the proposal was turned down by AICC, followed by a strong statement from the head of Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil. This statement has just added my respect to Mar Varkey Vithayathil, even though his is a lone voice in the Syro-Malabar Church supreme administration.
Cardinal Vithayahil, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) says it is wrong for bishops, priests and Church leaders to intervene in the selection of candidates during the elections.
”The Catholic Church and Christian leaders should not intervene in party politics. Church can ask the people to vote for the right candidates, but should not involve in electioneering and selection of candidates for particular constituencies,” Cardinal Vithayathil told reporters. [ via ]
The Latin Church, which is an influential force in Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram districts have gone a step further. The Varappuzha Archbishop, Daniel Acharuparambil, sent a list of four candidates to Sonia Gandhi. But Ramesh Chennithala, the Congress chief of Kerala, rejected the communal interference.
The letter was written by the Varapuzha Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil, who is also President of the Kerala Regional Latin Catholic Council, the body that looks after the social and other activities of the church.
The church has given three other names. The list does not contain the names of sitting Ernakulam Congress legislator and former minister K.V. Thomas or former Congress legislator and former minister Dominic Presentation. [ via ]
The Orthodox Church went even further. When their candidate request was turned down by Congress party, the Orthodox Church in Kerala decided to put up four candidates on their own for the polls. Now this is something new as no Church in Kerala has openly placed it’s candidates in elections.
The Orthodox Church had sent a letter to Sonia Gandhi expressing its wish that one of its members, who are active Congress supporters, be fielded. George Joseph, secretary of the church, said that the Congress had not even acknowledged the letter, said a report from IANS. [ via ]
The Congress party and Sonia Gandhi have wisely turned down the proposals from the Church supremos in all these cases which is a good sign. Or else BJP would have used this chance to accuse the “Christian” Sonia Gandhi playing in tunes of the Church. But now that will not have any substance.
It is clear that the faithful (except the ignorant lot and the power hungry creamy-layer in the community) is not going to blindly follow the orders of the Bishops like Mar Andrews Thazhath or Mar Daniel Acharuparambil. Because whenever the church has sponsored a Congress candidate, with public statements and pastoral letters, he lost. Edezhath, a close confidant of the high priests, lost by over 70,000 votes to an LDF independent in 2004 [via]. Thrissur in particular has a history of failing the over-confident power politicians. History has it that when Karunakaran contested from Thrissur he was defeated and when his son Muraleedharan contested from Thrissur in the very next polls, he too was defeated. In those two years, Thrissurians decided to send a noble man, V V Raghavan (of CPI), to parliament. And this year, it will be very interesting to see the results.
(Image source: Internet)