Kerala bishops have decried a statement by the state’s chief minister that they say could fracture community relations. The chief minister, V. S. Achuthanandan, a veteran communist, said on June 3 that Kerala’s Christians and Muslims are increasingly supporting political parties based on religion.
“It’s an unfortunate statement” and can “lead to communal polarization,” in this Christian stronghold state, Catholicos Baselios Mar Cleemis, head of the Syro- Malankara Church said. The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, the regional forum, will discuss the statement and other issues connected with it during its June 7 meeting, Catholicos Cleemis added.
It seems “to be a strategy, perhaps a clever strategy” in view of the state elections due next year, said political analyst M. G. Radhakrishnan. While accusing minority Christians and Muslims, Achuthanandan is silent on Hindus, who are the majority in the state. The state also has Hindu sects that influence elections to protect their interests, the analyst added.
Achuthanandan’s statement was “deplorable,” said former Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanassery. A chief minister must act above “party politics, but Achuthanandan has made statements for political gain,” he said.
Achuthanandan’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) is trying to garner at least 5 percent more votes from Hindu areas “in the next state election,” said another political analyst A. Jayshanker. “The hue and cry against minority extremism is the first step toward this,” Jayshanker added.
Last month’s merger of two factions from the Christian-dominated Kerala Congress Party has irked the communists, said Fr. Paul Thelakat, a Syro-Malabar Church spokesman. P. J. Joseph, who led one of the factions, left the ruling alliance and his ministerial job to join forces with another faction in the opposition.
Fr. Thelakat commented that the communist party is accusing bishops of engineering the merger. “But the affairs of Kerala Congress are not Church issues,” he said denying any Church involvement. The communists are making these allegations because the bishops have opposed their policies over the past four years, he said.