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Chengannur by-election; How Congress in Kerala has ceded the Secular space to Communists: George Abraham

June 14, 2018 , George Abraham

chengannur-imageNot too long ago, a Christian in Central Travancore in Kerala would have had a hard time pulling the lever for the hammer and sickle in an electron booth, the forever symbol of the Communist Party of India. Times have indeed changed. In a recently concluded election in Chengannur, Kerala, Christians overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Communists whose original doctrine is based on anti-God and anti-Church philosophies; under that red flag scores of Christians were persecuted and murdered in the former Soviet Union and China.

What is the reason for this drastic turn of events? Why have the staunch supporters of the Congress Party and dedicated followers of its values and principles shown the about-face? If one carefully examines the recent election history, there should be no surprise at this slow evolution among Christians switching the allegiance from a party which founded the Secular Democratic Republic to a party dedicated to the totalitarian philosophy!

I belong to the Chengannur Constituency and happened to be there in the early part of the campaign after attending the AICC plenary session in Delhi. With all those whom I have conversed, it became quite evident that all the indications pointed to a Communist victory in Chengannur. Some of the pundits who have analyzed the election results have concluded that Chengannur constituents wanted to continue with development work that was initiated under the late MLA Ramachandran Nair and therefore voted for CPM. Some others including the opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala openly stating that some minority consolidation bordering on reverse communalism was the reason for the loss.

Once again, we are witnessing Congress party leadership that is tone deaf and so detached from the grassroots that they are even unable to comprehend the aspirations of their constituents. Knowing fully well the daunting task ahead for the Congress party before the election, I took the initiative in bringing together Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, a former Home Minister and one of those Congress stalwarts together with a Pastor of one of the leading Pentecostal Churches in Kallissery for a meeting. The Pastor did not mince words by telling him that he along with other believers of the Church have just utterly lost faith in the Congress leadership in protecting their religious freedom or providing security to their places of worship.

The Protestant churches that may have about 15,000 or more votes in the constituency were becoming increasingly fearful of the BJP agenda and terrified at the stories of attacks on minorities and Dalits that were occurring across North India. They were even more distressed and disappointed at the lack of response from the Congress leadership in the State who seem to appear at their doorstep only at a time of an election. There may be the only handful of Congress leaders in the State who might even pick up their calls or return their emails.

Although Kerala is known for its communal harmony over the years, any NRI who returns to Kerala could easily sense the change in the cultural and religious dynamics. Communities appear to be increasingly growing apart and a sense of division and polarization has been seeping in. Although there is no large-scale riots or mayhem taking place anywhere in Kerala, the BJP under Amit Shah appears to have succeeded in exploiting the differences of the people, primarily based on religion.

RSS, which was quietly amassing their strength in Kerala over the years, has also become louder and bolder since the ascendance of Narendra Modi at the helm in Delhi. Although they have mostly shied away from physical violence in the central Travancore area, they would use any legal means to stop or delay Christian gatherings for worship such as Section 153 A of the Indian penal code (promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, etc.) For Christian communities, getting a permit for a convention or mounting a sound system in the public space or merely inviting a Christian leader from abroad have become a procedural nightmare. Moreover, any new building permit for a church would require intense police scrutiny and certification of unanimous approval from the surroundings.

An incident before the election in Kumbanad has also shaken the confidence of a segment of the Christian Community – a gang of RSS activists broke the wall and destroyed the gate of the Church of God, an evangelical group that has a strong presence in the area. According to the sources, the Church has made multiple calls to the leaders of the Congress Party as well CPM. The response from CPM leadership was swift and effective while Congress leaders showed up only a few days later. That pretty much illustrates the widening chasm between the Congress party and the people of the minority faith.

It should also be noted that Muslims in the Constituency have also voted overwhelmingly for CPM although Muslim league is a member of the UDF coalition. The sad reality is that the Congress Party that won independence for India and founded the constitutional republic which guaranteed religious freedom to every citizen has now found itself with leaders who are reluctant to hoist its secular flag and not brave enough to challenge the growing menace of communalism. Some of them would even go to the extent of arguing that such a loud voice would alienate the majority community. However, the truth of the matter is Congress Party was at its peak when it had leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru who was an unapologetic defender of secularism.

Mr. D. Vijaykumar, the candidate selected by the Congress, was an excellent choice considering his long and dedicated service to the party. He has indeed won more votes for the party this time than in the previous election. However, he couldn’t turn the tide in his favor due to some of the issues discussed before. There was also an underlying group rivalry along with lack of volunteers for a door-to-door campaign that might have also influenced the outcome.

The Christian Community in Kerala has a 2000 year old history. Christianity came to Kerala even before England had embraced that religion. Why then, they are made to feel that they don’t belong there or should act subservient to the majority community? Does religion define Indian ness? Obviously, RSS appears to be following Golwalker, their Guru of hate to the hilt.

Unless the Congress Party examines themselves well and readies a plan of action soon, a minority consolidation towards CPM will not only continue, but the Congress Party may be in grave danger of ceding the Secular space to CPM and consequently may be relegated to a third-place supplanting BJP in Kerala.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)

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