Kerala’s influential Catholics warn the Left
government of violent struggle if their powers to run professional colleges
come under review
The spectre of the
Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle), which culminated in the dismissal
of EMS Namboodiripad’s first Communist government in Kerala in
1959, is back to haunt the VS Achuthanandan-led Left Democratic Front
(LDF) government. The Catholic Church, which stage-managed the show
almost 50 years ago with the Nair Service Society, is now busy studying
the mood of the faithful to re-enact its second episode.
turned into the devil’s own country under Marxist rule,”
exhorted Thrissur Syro-Malabar Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazhathu. “We
would not allow the atheists to control our educational institutions…
The memories of the liberation struggle of 1959 are still fresh in our
memories. And we will resort to that if the government continues its
anti-minority policies,” the archbishop declared in a meeting
of the employees of educational institutions run by the archdiocese.
remember the liberation struggle of 1959 by which the Christians helped
overthrow the world’s first democratically elected Communist regime.
The struggle against the Communists (who assumed power in 1957) began
in 1958 and ended with the government’s dismissal in 1959. The
Achuthanandan government would suffer the same fate if it continues
to interfere with the educational rights of the minorities,” the
archbishop told Tehelka.
“The Supreme Court has annulled most anti-minority clauses of
the controversial legislation which was brought to regulate the self-financing
professional colleges. That law is unconstitutional. Now, the government
is resorting to coercive tactics to impose their wish on minority institutions.
We would not allow that,” the archbishop added.
is not sitting idle after making the statement. He has forced almost
all bishops in Kerala to issue pastoral letters to the faithful, urging
them to go to any extent to overthrow the government. The Indian Union
Muslim League treasurer and former Industries Minister PK Kunhalikutty
was the first politician who came out in the archbishop’s support.
Recently, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief Ramesh Chennithala
also called on the archbishop to express the party’s solidarity.
But apart from the Left leaders, the lone Congress voice that differed
from the party’s stance was that of Defence Minister AK Antony
who dismissed the archbishop’s call saying the political scenario
in the state had changed and that it is impossible to recreate 1959
now. The reason for this comment is very personal: When he was chief
minister, Antony gave no-objection certificates to all minority professional
institutions on the basis of a verbal assurance that they will give
50 percent seats to the government for admitting general category students.
Later, the managements backtracked saying there was no written agreement
between them and the state to go for 50:50 seat sharing. Left in the
lurch, Antony made his most controversial statement: “I have been
cheated by the minority managements. Minorities, as a united pressure
group, are bargaining for more sops and concessions. They are least
bothered about social commitments… It’s unfortunate.”
Now, the immediate
provocation was the LDF government’s move to seek 50 percent seats
for general category students in the professional colleges run by minorities;
a folly committed by Antony earlier. Significantly, many professional
institutions run by Muslims and other Christian factions have already
accepted the government’s admission formula. Further, the government’s
plan to bring all schools under the supervision of local bodies also
Soon after the
archbishop’s exhortation, most bishops came forward to emulate
him though he is not the head of the Syro-Malabar Church. The head is
Major Archbishop Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, a non-political leader
who oversees the Eranakulam-Angamaly archdiocese. But Archbishop Thazhathu
is spearheading the current agitation. According to political observers,
the Thrissur archdiocese had been the nerve-centre of the first liberation
struggle which was funded allegedly by the US Central Intelligence Agency,
and therefore, the archbishop’s threat assumes significance. The
archbishop is also organising ground-level meetings of the faithful
to form a cadre-outfit to protect church institutions. According to
Cardinal Vithayathil, it was “the folly” of the then EMS
government that triggered the Vimochana Samaram. He hoped the current
government would “not create a similar situation” that would
compel the church to take “emergency action.”
Catholic denominations like the Latin and the Syro-Malankara were less
articulate in attacking the government. Even a Latin Catholic laity
association publicly decried the pastoral letter issued by Archbishop
Thazhathu. Sensing danger and division among the Catholic community,
the Latin Major Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram, Susaipackiam, immediately
issued a strong letter against the government. In line with that, Syro-Malankara
Major Archbishop Baselius Clemmis Catholicose also deplored the government’s
move in a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram. Linked to this is
the decision of the Kerala University syndicate (dominated by the Leftists)
to de-affiliate three engineering colleges run by these Catholic communities.
The main worry
of the Catholic churches is that the LDF government is trying to impose
its decisions through “skewed” tactics. “The LDF continues
to violate the Christians’ constitutional right, as a minority,
to establish and manage educational institutions. The government also
runs politically motivated campaigns against church leaders and plans
to revise Kerala’s education policy in a bid to eliminate ‘faith
in God’,” alleged Archbishop Susaipackiam.
department is planning to hand over our schools which receive government
grant to panchayats and municipalities. The move will give more teeth
to the local bodies in teacher appointments and administration,”
said the archbishop.
Mar Joseph Perumthottam, in his letter, exhorted all students and teachers
to cooperate in the protest against politicising educational institutions
and promoting atheism in schools. The archbishop alleged that the quality
of education in Kerala was deplorable as none of the institutions figured
in the best 40 in the country. “If you want to move ahead, more
freedom is needed,” he added.
Minister MA Baby says the bishops’ worries are baseless. “There
is no truth in the allegation that the government is trying not only
to control appointments and admissions in the church-managed schools
but also to propagate its ideology through curriculum reforms. In fact,
the government wanted to bring in more transparency by making these
schools answerable to local self-governments. Such an action would not
curtail any right of the minorities,” said Baby.
As per the latest
statistics, Christians form just 19 percent of Kerala’s 3.18 crore
population. Irrespective of their numerical strength, they are economically
very strong and politically decisive in many parts. Three Catholic denominations,
two Syrian Orthodox factions and one Marthoma church make up the majority.
But the idea of a second liberation struggle fails to enthuse even the
hardcore among the faithful. Many are of the opinion that the success
of any such anti-democratic struggle would definitely defeat the state’s
efforts to curb the commercialisation of professional education. “The
bishops always demand a free hand on appointments and admission. They
have no faith in transparency or accountability to public. Such a moneymaking
exercise is certainly against the teachings of Christ,” said Joseph
Pulikkunnel, a Catholic reformer in Kerala. Eighty-seven-year-old Kulangara
Chacko Antony, who had been part of the Vimochana Samaram in 1959, said
the churches today do not wield the clout they did in the mid-50s.
But the rethinking
among the faithful is not disturbing the church leaders. “If any
action is taken against the Christian establishments, there would be
a strong reaction. No minister will then enter Thrissur district,”
warned Archbishop Thazhathu.
The 1959 struggle
had been a strange cocktail of social forces. The bishops, irked by
the radical educational reforms of Kerala’s first Education Minister
Professor Joseph Mundassery, had successfully roped in other caste forces
like the Muslim League and the Nair Service Society in the struggle
against the EMS government. But now, the equations have changed. The
powerful Ezhava community leader, Vellapally Natesan, is not supporting
the church’s initiative and is toeing an anti-minority line: “This
is not 1959. We will not allow Christians to cash in on our sentiments,”
The CPM, however,
is viewing the threat from the churches seriously. At least for the
time being, the rival camps in the party have buried their hatchet to
address the issue. After several months, Achuthanandan and CPM state
secretary Pinarayi Vijayan spoke in the same language to placate the