New Delhi: Sixty years ago, the party men of Pinarayi Vijayan had to face the wrath of the Church that eventually led to the fall of the world’s first democratically elected Communist government in Kerala. Today, Kerala’ Marxist chief minister faces the ire of his party men for his support to the Church.
The Church-Communist relation in the southern Indian state has come full circle in the past six decades.
The Communist Party of India (CPI), a partner in Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front, accuses the chief minister of giving more weight to religion than to the government’s promise of corruption-free governance.
So much so, the allegation has rekindled a debate on whether communists should consider religious symbols as sacred.
It all began when Vijayan, who belongs to the Marxist party, slammed officers under the CPI-held revenue department on April 11. The officers had demolished a massive cross using earth movers, belonging to Christian sect ‘Spirit in Jesus’, as part of an eviction drive against illegal structures near the tourism hotspot and ecologically fragile Munnar region that day.
“The action by the district administration has created an impression that the State government is against the symbol of cross. Have to check whether it was aimed at generating unnecessary animosity towards the government,” Vijayan told reporters.
The chief minister’s remarks were countered by CPI’s Kerala secretary Kanam Rajendran and CPM’s octogenarian mass leader V.S. Achuthanandan.
Rajendran said the cross marked the beginning of about 10 percent illegal encroachment in a 2000-acre government land, and it was only natural for officers to demolish it.
“Any form of encroachment has to be cleared, even those in the form of a holy cross,” said Achuthanandan, who had earlier accused Vijayan of “deviant tendencies” within the party, like allegedly propounding class cooperation as opposed to the Marxist idea of class conflict.
Binoy Viswam, senior CPI leader and former environment minister, added, “The move should not be seen as attack against any religion or its symbols, but in the context of environmental protection.
“We have seen even the Pope taking a stand in favor of environmental protection in recent times, should Marxists be any different?” he said over the phone from Kerala.
The CPM and CPI reportedly had a face-off on this issue on Friday. In the meeting called between the two parties, an enraged Vijayan argued for pausing the eviction drive in light of the razing down of the cross, while the CPI contested this view, regional news channel Manorama News reported. In the end, the two leaders agreed to call an all-party meeting on the issue, the channel reported.
Most major churches in Kerala have expressed strong support for the eviction drive.
“No one will be more happier than Jesus Christ in removing that Cross,” posted Geevarghese Mar Coorilos, Metropolitan of the Niranom diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church on Facebook.
The eviction has the support of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council president Archbishop M Soosa Pakiam and Syro-Malabar Church Major Archbishop Cardinal Mar George Alencherry.
‘Spirit in Jesus’ is a charismatic group which evolved within the Catholic Church but later moved out as an independent body, and has been at odds with other major Churches. Its leaders were unavailable for an immediate comment.
“The CM’s worry is genuine. Religion is a touchy topic in Kerala, just like how the communist party is,” said a CPM leader, on condition of anonymity. “The CPI, more than any other party, should know this better,” he said, referring to the backlash the undivided communist party had to face when it irked the clergy back in 1957 over education reforms and the resistance it met from within when it went for a similar eviction drive in Munnar in 2007.
While the move in 1957 was seen as an attack by the non-believers on the clergy-controlled education institutions, the one in 2017 had to stop mid-way once the bulldozers started licking the party offices of CPI in Munnar, causing much embarrassment to the front.