Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Thalassery, Mar Joseph Pamplani, opened a Pandora’s Box on March 19, 2023, by asserting that “the believers of the church will help the BJP to elect its first MP from the state if the union government raises the price of natural rubber to ₹300 per kg”. Addressing a meeting of the Catholic farmers’ conference, the Bishop said there was no need to keep the country’s ruling party away from the church. “The church has no aversion or untouchable attitude towards the BJP. After all it is ruling party of the country. If the farmers’ problems are addressed, we will vote for BJP,” he said. Natural rubber is priced between ₹130 and ₹150 now and he wanted the Centre to hike it to ₹300 per kg. If the Union government raised the price of rubber the church will naturally help the BJP to elect a member of parliament from the state, the Bishop said.
For politicians of all political parties, the Bishop’s statement-cum-promise came as a bolt from the blue, for it meant a complete realignment of political equations, and a tectonic shift in the stand of the Church.
Predictably, the statement rattled the Congress and the Communist parties, which were enjoying the support of the Church, by rotation, in every election. The Christian and Muslim votes, which are normally bartered for a basket of benefits, concessions and privileges, has been the crutch on which political parties in Kerala have been tottering, for the last 70 years. The splintered Hindu votes, could never be brought to the election marketplace for any kind of trading whatsoever. There was never a common undisputed leader for Kerala Hindus. An assortment of community leaders was contended to play second fiddle, to Communist and Congress leaders, and settled for private beneficial gains, putting in jeopardy the interests of the Hindu communities. This political equation has been undisturbed and has seen many electoral triumphs and defeats.
The meteoric rise of the BJP across India, brought a new choice for the people of the country. Many States that backed the BJP have seen pathbreaking developments and progress. However, the BJP could never muster any respectable tally in Kerala, for the bulk minority trading in votes, always eluded its grasp. Paradoxically the so-called “minorities” took an adversarial stand that it was a Hindu communal party, hence no kind of understanding with them in electoral matters.
But Keralites were well aware that the State was relegated to the side-lines, because they had cold-shouldered the BJP in every election, be it Parliamentary or Assembly. The local political parties were enmeshed in their internal rivalries, corruption, scandals and litigations, that development of the State was never a priority. Everybody was complacent and irresponsible, smug in their belief that during election time a few rounds of the Bishop palaces, and party headquarters of the Muslim League, will ensure their continuity. The so-called minority voters unquestionably cast their votes as directed, by their leaders. This has been the bane of Kerala politics.
The dramatic change at the Central level and the BJP’s rise to power, and the new direction that the economy has taken, has opened the eyes of the people of Kerala to what ‘development’ actually means. But Kerala was stuck in a quagmire, as the so called ‘minorities’ were in the cast iron grip of the communists and congress parties. But on March 19, 2023, the Archbishop of Thalassery Mar Joseph Pamplany dropped a bombshell when he asserted “Church won’t support or help any party or religion. However, the BJP is not untouchable for us.” He further added that “if the Central Government raises the price of rubber to Rs 300 per kilogram, the Church will help the BJP in Kerala and will overcome the situation of the BJP not having an MP from the State”. But, this is not just about rubber prices, people should not mistake that the Bishop is trying to be a rubber commission agent! Lurking behind the rubber curtain are concerns of far greater issues disturbing the community.
The Bishop is a very perspicacious person, it seems, for he understands that the trading in votes may not last too long. Everyday hordes of Kerala youngsters are leaving seeking fresh pastures in Europe, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand, and are unlikely to return to their homeland. The reduction in voting numbers would mean loss of political clout in the future and the community would be in the wilderness.
Why these youngsters are leaving Kerala? Successive Kerala governments, elected on the support of minority vote-trading, have done nothing to solve the critical unemployment problem. If Kerala youth want jobs today, they have to go to Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, or elsewhere. Be it Catholic or Protestant, Sunni or Shia, Nair or Ezhava, there are no jobs available in Kerala, for there are no industries flourishing in the State.
The Bishop is aware that Kerala is the world’s largest supplier of good quality nurses, especially from the Christian community, yet the State does not have a world class nursing university or college!
Kerala youth enrol in large number for medical studies, not only in India but also in China, Russia, Ukraine, and in almost every East European country. Yet the State does not have a single world class medical university or college!
Large number of engineering students graduate from Kerala, every year, they have zero employment opportunities. They have to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
Industries, whatever little are there in Kerala are being forced out of the State due to the hostile attitude of the government. Garment major KITEX was forced to leave the State. “I am not leaving on my own. I was kicked out. Sad, Kerala says it is one of the best investor-friendly states, but ground situation is contrary. Its policies are at least 50-year-old,” said an emotionally charged Jacob, the MD of KITEX group.
In September 2021, the Bishop of the Palai Diocese dropped a bombshell by disclosing that young men and women, belonging to the Christian community and other non-Muslim faiths, were being lured and targeted through means such as ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’ in the state.
Joseph Kallarangatt, Bishop of the Palai diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church, alleged that those who claim that ‘love jihad’ doesn’t exist in Kerala are “blind to reality.” “Such people, be they politicians or those from social and cultural spaces, media may have their own vested interests. But one thing is clear. We are losing our young women. It’s not just love marriages. It’s a war strategy to destroy their lives,” he claimed. The Bishop alluded to a former DGP’s statement that Kerala was becoming a recruitment centre for terrorists and that it was home to ‘sleeper cells’ for such persons.
The Church is critically aware that the minority votes that they traded in favour of Communists and Congress, were clearly not only not serving the interests of the community, but also had a deleterious outcome.
The Archbishop of Thalassery Mar Joseph Pamplany is also very observant in addition to being perspicacious. He is seeing the calculated harassment being meted out to the Sabarimala pilgrims. Every kind of disruption to make the pilgrimage a miserable experience is being inflicted on the helpless pilgrims. Be it exorbitant bus fares, car parking charges, rates for Temple Prasad, the pilgrims suffer enormously, despite collecting a record Rs.320 crores as on January 14th 2023. The Temple is managed by the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), which in turn is Government controlled, and manned by Communist party cadres. The Bishop must be rightly pondering that once the voting power of the community declines, their fate also will be like that of Hindus, no peaceful pilgrimages.
Let there be no delusion, the Bishop’s overture is not just about rubber prices, there are deeper and disturbing issues to be resolved, that is beyond the capacity of politicians in Communist and Congress parties. The Bishop is looking at the central BJP leadership for a new direction to safeguard the community. The BJP should grab opportunity by the forelock.
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