Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil, president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, is a busy man. Yet apart from his pastoral duties he has found enough time to pore over the list of Congress candidates. To such effect apparently that he was able to send a list of four Catholics to Sonia Gandhi who, in the Varapuzha Archbishop's considered opinion, deserved to get the Congress ticket from certain select constituencies.
If the good shepherd ever finds respite from tending his pet lambs he might, perhaps, ponder over a text somewhat removed from party politics. The Gospel of Matthew to be precise, which quotes Jesus Christ as saying, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
[Should the Archbishop be a trifle pressed for time with other matters in the run-up to the general election, I believe the line appears in the twenty-second chapter of the Gospel.]
A general election falls in the secular realm of the Caesars, does it not? Why then did the Archbishop choose to shatter the line between Church and State? Is this the famous 'secularism' which the Congress, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, and their allies are swearing to protect from the talons of the Bharatiya Janata Party?
This is scarcely the first time that the Roman Catholic Church has attempted to play a part in political matters. The government of Kerala had set up a Law Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of Justice V R Krishna Iyer. The commission made several proposals, and the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council was quick to oppose some of them. Stephen Alathara, spokesman for the council, said the Catholic Church could never accept the recommendations for refusing concessions to parents with more than two kids, to permit euthanasia, and to do away with the provision that makes suicide a crime.
Population control, the right to die, and the decriminalisation of suicide are matters that affect non-Catholics? What, exactly, gives the Catholic clergy the right to dictate to the rest of us?
The recommendations of the Kerala Law Reforms Commission must await the end of the general election, so that is a battle for another day.
Although the Varapuzha Archbishop has caught most of the flak, he was scarcely alone in sending advice to 10, Janpath in Delhi. I understand that there were at least two others who offered advice.
One of them tried to veto a certain Congress candidate on the ground that the said candidate had married a non-Christian.
Forget 'secularism' and 'communalism', this is pure idiocy! Did the man even think of the person to whom he was addressing that letter before putting ink on paper? Sonia Gandhi was born a Catholic but she herself married a non-Christian, did she not? (One can argue over whether the late Rajiv Gandhi was a Parsi, through his father, Feroze, or a Hindu through his mother, Indira, but there is certainly no Christian on the family tree.)
Was it this last epistle that turned the scales? We shall probably never know but, to give credit where it is due, Sonia Gandhi ignored both the recommendations by two bishops and the objection of the third.
May I point out that this is one instance where the Congress leadership comes over trumps over its Left Front counterparts?
While releasing the CPI-M election manifesto, party General Secretary Prakash Karat made the usual thundering denunciation of "communalism". All very well good, but the BJP is not a force in Kerala, so the CPI-M general-secretary made it a point to single out the Muslim League.
Comrade Karat described the Muslim League as the most communal party in Kerala -- some reports said he made it the worst in India! -- and vowed to uproot it.
If the archbishop who spoke of "marriage to a non-Christian" was being silly, Karat was being utterly hypocritical. In order to take on the Muslim League in its strongholds the CPI-M has joined hands with a group called the People's Democratic Party.
Despite the innocuous name the PDP is a creation of Abdul Nasser Madani, the man charged in connection with the Coimbatore blasts. Though he was acquitted in that particular case the police are now investigating possible links between Madani and certain militants in Jammu & Kashmir. (According to reports, terrorists linked to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Indian Mujahideen claimed that they had been in contact with members of Madani's family.)
Kerala's Left Front Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said there would be no new probes against Madani as all the new reports are related to old events. This prompted former chief minister Oomen Chandy to point out the obvious: "Malayali militants get killed in Kashmir, a clandestine meeting takes place in Aluva, and militants hold a training camp in Vagamon. But still the home minister does not view any of these as new."
Incidentally, the CPI and the CPI-M certainly do not see eye to eye on Madani and his People's Democratic Party. CPI General Secretary A B Bardhan has specifically denounced Madani's group as "communal". This comment, by the by, came on the very day that the CPI-M party boss in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, shared the platform with Madani at an election meeting.
Sections in the 'secular' media are baying for Varun Gandhi's head, asking the BJP to dissociate itself from its candidate. How much criticism have you heard about the blatant interference in politics of the Roman Catholic clergy in Kerala, or of the CPI-M's hobnobbing with a party that even the CPI denounces as "communal"? Or is it only Hindus and the BJP that must always prove their adherence to 'secularism'?