Vote bank politics has overridden other concerns, including communal harmony.


New Delhi: A week after a Catholic bishop in Kerala was roundly condemned for attempting to rake up animosity among minority communities in the state, the ruling CPM and the Opposition Congress were queuing up at his residence seeking an audience “to resolve the issue through dialogues”.  For BJP, practically in hibernation after the recent Assembly election disaster, it was a “golden opportunity” to be back in circulation.

By Friday, it was abundantly clear that concerns of vote bank politics have overridden other concerns, including that of communal harmony and the growing incidence of drug abuse in the state.

While addressing the faithful in a church in Kottayam district in Christian-dominated central Kerala mid last week, Pala bishop Joseph Kallarangatt claimed that there are two types of jihad—“love jihad and narcotic jihad”—spreading its tentacles in that state.

“Narcotic jihad is the activity of spoiling the life of a section of the youths, by making them addicted to drugs,” the bishop said. “Various types of drugs are being used in ice-cream parlours, hotels and juice corners run by hardcore jihadis. They are using various types of drugs as weapon to spoil non-Muslim.”

“The rave parties, which promote use of narcotics, and the drugs being seized from such events, have presented the fact before us. We see a lot of people among us who lost their jobs or abandoned their studies after they became drug addicts,” the bishop said.

The bishop went on to say, “In the perspective of jihadis, the ways for attaining their agenda get manifested in different manners…Love jihad and narcotic jihad are two such ways.”

While some extremist organisations took out protest march to the bishop’s house, the ruling CPM and the Opposition Congress, along with various Muslim bodies, decried the bishop’s statements. The BJP strongly endorsed the bishop’s stand. Not only the BJP, but many Catholic organisations, Church mouthpiece “Deepika” and also some fellow bishops voiced their support endorsing the statement. However, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) tried to play down the controversy. In a statement, it said the bishop’s words were not aimed at any community and he was only “sharing the community’s concerns”. It should not be made controversial and should instead be discussed with seriousness, KCBC said.  Not surprisingly, the bishop got full support from the BJP, especially Union minister of state V. Muraleedharan who said those who condemn the bishop are “jihadists’ spokespersons”. “He (the bishop) has raised the concerns of the Christian community in Kerala. Don’t think that the bishop can be silenced by attacking him,” the minister, who hails from Kerala, warned. Some time back, it was elements in the Christian community that had come up with accusations of Muslim youths enticing young girls from their community and turning them into jihadists. However, ‘narcotic jihad’ is something new to Kerala. There have been reports on the rising use of narcotics, especially local grown ganja, among the youth. The bishop himself has not bothered to explain what he meant by ‘narcotic jihad’ other than saying that drugs, he did not even name one, are freely available in ice-cream parlours and juice shops, a large number of them run by Muslims.

Congress was the first to point out the risks hidden in the bishop’s sermon. Opposition leader V.D. Satheesan of Congress accused the Sangh Parivar of trying to spark communal tension over the bishop’s comments. Muslim and Christian communities should not get trapped in the agenda, he said, while asking the government to take “appropriate action”. He did not clearly ask the government to book the bishop for hate speech.

In the last Assembly elections, the Congress-led UDF had to pay a heavy price for alienating Kerala Congress (M) which has a mass Christian base in central Kerala. Jose K. Mani, son of founder of the party K.M. Mani, walked over to CPM-led LDF just weeks before the elections which played a crucial role in the re-election of a ruling communist government for the first time in Kerala’s history.  That Jose himself lost in his late father’s bastion, incidentally Pala, is another political story. A large chunk of Muslim voters, too, backed LDF in the light of Pinarayi Vijayan’s opposition to the controversial Citizens Amendment Act. On Thursday Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was quoted as saying “Kerala has a tradition of secularism and brotherhood. There are some attempts from some quarters to destroy this. There will be stringent action against them.” He, too, did not make it clear as to whether the bishop was included among those people trying to undermine communal harmony.  Moreover, his new ally, Kerala Congress (M) has justified the bishop’s remarks.

Incidentally, Pinaryi Vijayan as state secretary of the CPM sometime in 2007 had called the then Bishop of Thamarassery diocese in Kozhikode district, Paul Chittilappally a “wretched creature” sparking a political row. Nothing of that sort happened this time, not that Pinarayi is a chastened man, but he knows full well where power comes from.

But when the newly appointed Congress president of the state K Sudhakaran decided to call on the bishop, it sent alarm bells ringing at AKG Centre, state headquarters of the CPM. Off went V.N. Vasavan, Minister for Cooperation and Registration, and a former Kottayam district secretary of the CPM to the Bishop Hose in Pala, which, incidentally, falls in Kottayam. Senior BJP leaders, including actor Suresh Gopi, a Rajya Sabha MP, had already met the bishop and expressed their solidarity with him.

All of them claimed their respective visits as “courtesy calls”. No one from the Indian Union Muslim League has so far visited the Pala bishop, though many of its leaders have had talks with some other bishops. Back on 4 July 2010, when a group of men, who later identified themselves as members of the Popular Front of India, chopped off the wrist of a professor returning home from a Sunday mass in Muvattupuzha in Idukki district in central Kerala allegedly for preparing a question paper with ‘insulting’ references to the Prophet, the Church had disowned him. The college run by Christian missionaries summarily sacked the professor. The then CPM education minister found fault with the professor and the Left Front government did not raise a finger against the college management. The professor was left to fight his case alone.  As for the bishop’s “anti-Muslim” sermon, the Left Front government is yet to clarify whether it intends to look into it, order an enquiry to probe into the charges. Instead, all efforts are on to mollify the bishop. Politics seems to have taken precedence over the real issue of narcotics.