Catholic Church-BJP bond in Kerala sees cracks with rising violence in Manipur, UCC

Metropolitan Archbishop of the Thalassery diocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asked him to intervene in the violence and end the matter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Catholic priests (Photo: @narendramodi/Twitter)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Catholic priests (Photo: @narendramodi/Twitter)

Ashlin Mathew

The ethnic violence in Manipur and the union government’s insistence on implementing the Uniform Civil Code have dampened the relationship of the Catholic Church with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala.

Metropolitan Archbishop of the Thalassery diocese of the influential Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Mar Joseph Pamplany slammed the union government and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in the violence and end the matter.

Criticising the Prime Minister, Pamplany said, “During his US visit, Modi said that there was no discrimination in India. We all want that to be true. However, if that statement of his has to be true, Modi should make the Christians in Manipur believe that. He should say to their faces that there is no discrimination.”

“In a country where many are being brutally killed like mad dogs, our honourable Prime Minister, you can go to America and say (what you said). But not a single individual from the minority communities will believe your words,” Pamplany cautioned, while calling the Manipur violence another version of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. Minorities, he reminded, are under attack not just in Manipur.

Pamplany said that no one could be faulted for thinking that there is a silent approval of the government for those engaging in violence and killing in that state.

The Bishop had in March promised that if the union government would increase the rubber prices to Rs 300, BJP could see an MP from Kerala. The BJP has never won a Lok Sabha seat from Kerala, and currently does not have a single MLA in the 140-member Kerala Assembly.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), the apex body of Catholic Churches in Kerala, has also sharply criticised the ruling party and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

KCBC spokesperson Fr Jacob G Palackappilly said that the Manipur government had not been able to take control of the situation in the State. The Union government should dismiss it and declare President’s rule in the state. “PM Modi should treat all citizens as equal and minorities should not fear for their lives. The PM has a responsibility to each and every citizen in the country and Modi should fulfil that responsibility. He should prove that he is the PM and can take action,” said Palackappilly.

Lashing out at the PM over his failure to reign in the violence in Manipur and protect Christians, Pamplany called it “irresponsible”. He said the ongoing violence in Manipur could be seen as “ethnic cleansing” of Christians who make up 41 per cent of the population of the northeastern state.

Referring to the Uniform Civil Code, Pamplany said its details should be made open to debate. “Within the Hindu community itself, there are multiple practices. Hence, the government should hold these discussions with people so that they can understand what is being proposed to be implemented. It should be presented in the legislative assemblies,” said the archbishop.

Earlier, Pamplany had adopted a soft-pedalled on the Gujarat riots and even pushed the so-called “love jihad” bogey in an apparent move to appease the Sangh Parivar. On Easter, Pamplany had cautioned against the “growing trend of love trap cases” targeting Christian women.

He had then accused the UDF and LDF of ignoring the interests of the Christians in the state while cosying up to Muslims. But, on Friday, 30 June 2023, he struck a different note.

This would mean that the Catholic church’s relationship with BJP with cool down after it had struck a high note when Modi had met the top bishops in the state during his two-day visit to Kerala in April and had then discussed the issue of attacks against the Christian community in various parts of the country.

Then the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Verapoly Joseph Kalathiparambil had called the meeting with Modi “heart-warming”. The Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar church Cardinal George Allencherry had gone as far as to say that ere the people of Kerala were "appreciative of PM Modi" and are looking for development.

Christians comprise 18 per cent of the population in Kerala, and BJP has been pro-actively reaching out to them to garner their support in time for the 2024 elections. The party had drawn up plans for the outreach after having made inroads in Goa and the northeast.

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