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Kerala’s political climate is hotting up as election season approaches

With elections due in April, the state’s political moodswings have begun, poll lines are being drawn and redrawn

Karuna John 05 Mar 2021

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

Politicians in poll-bound Kerala are hard at work making their presence felt, being in the public eye is a part of political investments as the election months close in. They are also busy curating their political networks, and strengthening social alliances that they hope will ensure rich dividends come election time. Lines are also blurring between the church and state, quite literally as was reported recently by the Indian Express on how the influential Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church on Thursday “urged its followers to vote for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader R Balashankar", whose “intervention saved a 1,000-year-old church in Kerala’s Alappuzha district from demolition to widen a national highway.”

According to the IE the church is, “acknowledging the timely intervention of Balashankar, co-convener, BJP national training programme, in preventing the demolition of St George Orthodox Church at Cheppad”. Hence the spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Fr Johns Abraham Konat, has said that the Church head Baselios Marthoma Paulose II wanted the faithful to keep away partisan political interests to vote for Balashankar. Fr Konat reportedly has said, “If Balashankar is not voted to victory, it would be ungratefulness. The Prime Minister had intervened in the issue of the Cheppad church, which was subsequently handed over to the Archaeology department and thus froze the decision to demolish the church. It was Balashankar who gave courageous leadership in this effort to protect the historical church.” He added that, “He [Balashankar] is the BJP candidate in Chengannur, where Orthodox Church is an influential force. When the LDF and UDF fronts kept away from the issue without rendering any help to protect the church, it was Balashankar who, like a Church member, intervened.” According to the news report, Balashankar is likely to contest from Chengannur assembly seat, which is currently held by CPI (M) legislator Saji Cheriyan.

The Church, at Cheppad, is believed to have been built in 1050 AD, and has priceless murals, and is the burial place of the revered 19th century Malankara Metropolitan Philipose Mar Dionysius. However it was reportedly facing “demolition” according to the widening alignment decided by the National Highway Authority of India. According to the IE orders had been issued in this regard, and the Church had raised the matter seeking the intervention across political lines to save it from demolition. However, it was BJP’s Balashankar, who eventually raised the issue to with Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari. Subsequently, reported IE, the officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) inspected the church, and declared it to be “one of the rarest in Kerala, with beautiful mural paintings on the walls of the altar,” and due to its historical, art and architectural importance the church,  ASI felt should be a protected monument of national importance. Hence the ‘blessings’ as it were are now being showered in thanksgiving on the BJP politician.  

In direct contrast is an example of the ‘Left’ side of the political divide in the state known as God’s own country. A group of eminent Muslim citizens have written to the CPI (M) General Secretary, Sitaram Yechuri, their concerns about what they term as “Kerala CPM's unhealthy and negative Communal shift”. The group has raised questions and alleged that there has been a “the shocking shift” in that the “CPI(M) has taken in Kerala” recently, apparently to gain “electoral dividends”. The letter alleges that Vijayaraghavan, the party’s acting secretary in the state, has been consistently making “Islamophobic statements vitiating the social environment of Kerala”. Another allegation is about tags like ‘terrorists’ being heaped on ’ those who oppose environmentally questionable projects.

Responding to these allegations Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) Politburo member Brinda Karat told SabrangIndia that none of the “signatories have anything to do with the CPIM”. According to Karat, one of the signatories of this letter has “in an earlier FB post made a scurrilous allegation that Prakash Karat senior Polit Bureau member is about to join the BJP! Such absurdities certainly raise questions about the credibility of and motives behind the letter sent on the eve of the elections.” The letter has been signed by a group of scientists, lawyers, writers, filmmakers, professors and has made strong allegations against Vijayaraghavan. The letter writers say they are concerned about what they call a “possible destruction of the social fabric of Kerala,” and  the “new social engineering the CPIM is doing in Kerala.”

Brinda Karat has said that the the signatories have not answered “the crux of the issue: did the Muslim League and the UDF ally with some Muslim extremist groups in the local body elections? Yes they did and that is the criticism of the CPI (M) against the Muslim League and the UDF. It is totally wrong to equate criticism of such an opportunist alliance with extremist elements with the CPIM’s approach to minority rights”. She says that “on such grounds to term the CPI (M) as Islamophobic is nothing but a politically motivated charge.” According to Karat the party’s acting Secretary Vijay Raghavan has clarified repeatedly that “majoritarian communalism represented by the BJP, the RSS and the sangh parivar are the greatest danger. However in this fight we can never compromise with any extremist or communal elements and groups working in the name of minority communities.Those who do so will be exposed before the people.”

Karat added that “it is an insult to the hundreds of CPI(M) workers martyred by the RSS to suggest the Party has in any way diluted its fight against the BJP. This is a canard being spread on the eve of the elections to discredit the LDF. This is all the more so since as people of Kerala know the BJP and the UDF are working in tandem to discredit the LDF including on the use of central agencies targeting the Chief Minister. It is because the minorities of Kerala are appreciating the stand of CPI (M) in defence of secular values, that such charges are being made which have no substance.”

However, Pareethu Bava Khan, who is one of the signatories, told SabrangIndia that the group is awaiting an official reply to the letter and will only decide what to do next after that. 

Related:

Why is Kerala concerned about the Centre’s ESZ notification?
Two former Kerala HC judges join BJP
RSS worker killed in clash with SDPI members in Kerala’s Alappuzha
Kerala Government to drop Sabarimala, anti CAA protest cases

Kerala’s political climate is hotting up as election season approaches

With elections due in April, the state’s political moodswings have begun, poll lines are being drawn and redrawn

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

Politicians in poll-bound Kerala are hard at work making their presence felt, being in the public eye is a part of political investments as the election months close in. They are also busy curating their political networks, and strengthening social alliances that they hope will ensure rich dividends come election time. Lines are also blurring between the church and state, quite literally as was reported recently by the Indian Express on how the influential Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church on Thursday “urged its followers to vote for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader R Balashankar", whose “intervention saved a 1,000-year-old church in Kerala’s Alappuzha district from demolition to widen a national highway.”

According to the IE the church is, “acknowledging the timely intervention of Balashankar, co-convener, BJP national training programme, in preventing the demolition of St George Orthodox Church at Cheppad”. Hence the spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Fr Johns Abraham Konat, has said that the Church head Baselios Marthoma Paulose II wanted the faithful to keep away partisan political interests to vote for Balashankar. Fr Konat reportedly has said, “If Balashankar is not voted to victory, it would be ungratefulness. The Prime Minister had intervened in the issue of the Cheppad church, which was subsequently handed over to the Archaeology department and thus froze the decision to demolish the church. It was Balashankar who gave courageous leadership in this effort to protect the historical church.” He added that, “He [Balashankar] is the BJP candidate in Chengannur, where Orthodox Church is an influential force. When the LDF and UDF fronts kept away from the issue without rendering any help to protect the church, it was Balashankar who, like a Church member, intervened.” According to the news report, Balashankar is likely to contest from Chengannur assembly seat, which is currently held by CPI (M) legislator Saji Cheriyan.

The Church, at Cheppad, is believed to have been built in 1050 AD, and has priceless murals, and is the burial place of the revered 19th century Malankara Metropolitan Philipose Mar Dionysius. However it was reportedly facing “demolition” according to the widening alignment decided by the National Highway Authority of India. According to the IE orders had been issued in this regard, and the Church had raised the matter seeking the intervention across political lines to save it from demolition. However, it was BJP’s Balashankar, who eventually raised the issue to with Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari. Subsequently, reported IE, the officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) inspected the church, and declared it to be “one of the rarest in Kerala, with beautiful mural paintings on the walls of the altar,” and due to its historical, art and architectural importance the church,  ASI felt should be a protected monument of national importance. Hence the ‘blessings’ as it were are now being showered in thanksgiving on the BJP politician.  

In direct contrast is an example of the ‘Left’ side of the political divide in the state known as God’s own country. A group of eminent Muslim citizens have written to the CPI (M) General Secretary, Sitaram Yechuri, their concerns about what they term as “Kerala CPM's unhealthy and negative Communal shift”. The group has raised questions and alleged that there has been a “the shocking shift” in that the “CPI(M) has taken in Kerala” recently, apparently to gain “electoral dividends”. The letter alleges that Vijayaraghavan, the party’s acting secretary in the state, has been consistently making “Islamophobic statements vitiating the social environment of Kerala”. Another allegation is about tags like ‘terrorists’ being heaped on ’ those who oppose environmentally questionable projects.

Responding to these allegations Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) Politburo member Brinda Karat told SabrangIndia that none of the “signatories have anything to do with the CPIM”. According to Karat, one of the signatories of this letter has “in an earlier FB post made a scurrilous allegation that Prakash Karat senior Polit Bureau member is about to join the BJP! Such absurdities certainly raise questions about the credibility of and motives behind the letter sent on the eve of the elections.” The letter has been signed by a group of scientists, lawyers, writers, filmmakers, professors and has made strong allegations against Vijayaraghavan. The letter writers say they are concerned about what they call a “possible destruction of the social fabric of Kerala,” and  the “new social engineering the CPIM is doing in Kerala.”

Brinda Karat has said that the the signatories have not answered “the crux of the issue: did the Muslim League and the UDF ally with some Muslim extremist groups in the local body elections? Yes they did and that is the criticism of the CPI (M) against the Muslim League and the UDF. It is totally wrong to equate criticism of such an opportunist alliance with extremist elements with the CPIM’s approach to minority rights”. She says that “on such grounds to term the CPI (M) as Islamophobic is nothing but a politically motivated charge.” According to Karat the party’s acting Secretary Vijay Raghavan has clarified repeatedly that “majoritarian communalism represented by the BJP, the RSS and the sangh parivar are the greatest danger. However in this fight we can never compromise with any extremist or communal elements and groups working in the name of minority communities.Those who do so will be exposed before the people.”

Karat added that “it is an insult to the hundreds of CPI(M) workers martyred by the RSS to suggest the Party has in any way diluted its fight against the BJP. This is a canard being spread on the eve of the elections to discredit the LDF. This is all the more so since as people of Kerala know the BJP and the UDF are working in tandem to discredit the LDF including on the use of central agencies targeting the Chief Minister. It is because the minorities of Kerala are appreciating the stand of CPI (M) in defence of secular values, that such charges are being made which have no substance.”

However, Pareethu Bava Khan, who is one of the signatories, told SabrangIndia that the group is awaiting an official reply to the letter and will only decide what to do next after that. 

Related:

Why is Kerala concerned about the Centre’s ESZ notification?
Two former Kerala HC judges join BJP
RSS worker killed in clash with SDPI members in Kerala’s Alappuzha
Kerala Government to drop Sabarimala, anti CAA protest cases

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