Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Deepening Communal Divide in Kerala

By M H Ahssan

Only one remaining secular space in Kerala is the meeting sessions of hard-core drinkers before and after arrack/toddy consumption in and around alcohol shops, says Mr. CK Vishwanath. Thankfully, there remains such a secular forum in Kerala, where people of diverse backgrounds can meet and forget their differences and remain together on a common platform for some time.

Swami Vivekananda once called Kerala as a lunatic or a mental asylum during one of his visits. Nothing much has changed since then? Other than State achieving better rating at social and human development indicators, of course, this is not a small achievement! But when mafia – gunda – quotation raj being the reality and norm of the day on the one hand, at the law & order front, at the socio-political front people are deeply divided over community, religious and caste lines.

Today’s Kerala is a highly communalized state. Inter community and inter religious interactions are very minimal.

People are classified on religious, caste and community lines. The potential to garner votes based on identity matter more when a political candidate for an election is being decided.

Over a period of time, with this game played-out by all, divisions within society on the lines of identity based upon caste, religious and community has deepened, poisoning Kerala society, expanding communal divide, resulting in almost irreversible shrinkage of secular space, as Mr. Vishwanath opines.

Many actors are responsible for this kind of shrinking secular space. While not disputing the contributions made by Christian missionaries to Kerala’s social development, role of contemporary Church leadership in communalizing Kerala society is a matter of concern which need serious thought.

Similarly we need to give serious attention to political parties that contribute parochial feelings among broader Kerala society. Just for instance, the name Kerala Congress itself is an example. That name is not attuned to Kerala people’s nationalistic outlook; moreover their suspected - clandestine links with the Church leadership is yet another issue. It is generally believed that various political groupings under Kerala Congress (KC) brand name have much to do with Christian and Church’s political and economic interests.

Support of religious and community leaders are a critical factor for winning elections in Kerala. Knowing this well and the strategy to adopt so as to gain maximum political clout, Churches always attempt to influence voting pattern and thereby electoral fortunes of candidates.

A bishop, if cannot openly declare support to a party or a candidate, often do express his leniency in a number of ways, just for instance, by posing for camera with the candidate to appear that photo in next day’s newspaper, during electioneering time, signaling believers whom should they vote. That may be an old gimmick and highly un- doubtful, if bishops can any longer influence believers considerably.

But the larger civil society is divided and danger is already done and made. Division created will here to stay for a long time to come, at least till the coming up IT generation taking strong strides to break up with the past and move forward with a large number of inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-community marriages. And of course through multicultural worksites especially in the newly sprouting IT and BPO companies!

The problem of communal poisoning arose because, it was a politics related to economic power, managing social infrastructural investments.

Managing a host of social institutions, commercially, is not an easy task. Clearances, extensions, permits, new licenses and a whole lot of things are involved. Here the need to have a political representative, who can help in such matters, is quite understandable, for a country, where dealing with regulatory mechanism functioning with a rent-seeking motto. It is good to some representation at political level to speed up matters and to at least partially overcome rent seeking behavior of people concerned.

There are two kinds of minority institutions in the country. One is a minority religious institute directly managed by the Church bodies. The second category is the institutions formed to grab minority benefits by investors, NRIs from minority community. It is the sprouting of such institutes and support given to them by the contemporary church leadership often causes problem.

Some of these spiritual leaders move on specially imported heavier vehicles that consume much more fuel than fuel economy model cars that are available in the local market. And when they speak out vehemently for minority institutions ( as some of them have minority business men’s investment in them) spectators of all backgrounds raise eyebrows.

And on whose money these heavy model vehicles run? Is it the believers money or the business lobby finance them? And politicians from their community are needed to ensure safe passage of those ‘holy vehicles’ at custom points and ensure clearances at various governmental level. Also, political representation are needed to clear up some of the serious violation of various income tax laws in those non-Church managed money making minority institution. Here many out of one advantage it seems to me for the spiritual leaders for aligning with business are may be those heavy luxury vehicles and free fuel, so that cost of running them need not figure in the account statements.

Fall out of this nexus between the trinity, spiritual leaders – business men – political leaders is that other communities, religious groups and caste organizations started adopting same model. And this pattern is now widespread. There is a huge competition between different groups to become the largest capitalist force within the State of Kerala. Interestingly, each and every community organizations have their micro credit arrangements.

Between the Trinity mentioned above, there are mutual give and take which may be broadly finance related, business related, vote related and many more. This has nothing to do with Christianity or the Church. Helping a political leader or a political party is none of Church’s business.

Late Bishop Paulose Mar Paulose, Late Abraham Marthoma and Bishop Yuhanon Marthoma all used to take strong political positions for different causes, for or against policies and decisions of the governments. Yuhanon Marthoma took a position against former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule in the late 1970s.

But participating actively in politics, as behind the curtain strategy masters, religious leaders are poisoning Kerala’s political space! It was indeed a ‘slow poisoning’, a process started with the formation of Kerala Congress!

Many of the UDF constituents, especially, non-Congress constituents, it is highly doubtful, if they can count even 1000 votes for sure to their kitty today. But in a coalition context they bargain for their seats and continuously win elections. It is an interesting phenomenon.

So often those who win seats in the Christian–Rubber clusters are people who have not much grassroots base except for the right equation with the bishops, the Church and community leaders.

Altogether this game where religions, Churches, political leaders and business men are involved has more to do with money making and advancement of individual business interests rather than politics or representing a constituency. It has indeed poisoned secular Kerala polity. It has fragmented Kerala’s secular polity as splinter groups keep on splitting together with their public display of their denominational or congregational oriented claims for rights, as they claim & believe, such as claims for particular number of seats etc.

In the last parliament elections, it appeared in the news paper that certain religious leaders have written to a particular political party to provide seats to members of their diocese as well as persons whom they think as suitable. Threatening statements by church representatives also were being reported by the media.

Where is it all going to end?

This kind of intervention by religious leaders is not at all a welcome thing. Political parties and political leadership must decide not to give tickets to people who associate too much with religious leaders. Just for instance, if a young person’s/leaders case is being pushed or advocated by a religious leader too much, that leader should be shown the way. In the secular context of India, for the furtherance of secularism in India, these kinds of measures, a kind of internal discipline measures are needed.

In a country like India, we have too bad experiences related to communalism, communal riots and violence between different religious groups.

For the long term and larger interest of Indian Republic, Election Commission must create a special cell to monitor the pre-poll activities of political parties and political leaders during non-electioneering and normal years 365 days 24X7 or all throughout. This cell should constantly watch and observe all kinds of maneuverings that are happening in the political circles and remove those groups and persons that contribute divisions within society from contesting elections as political parties and black list such individuals.

This cell should have an advisory board consisting of judges, journalists, NGOs, senior academics as well as representatives from industry and businesses. There was a mention by UPA government regarding a legislation to curb communal riots. Nothing has come out yet. UPA can think of this kind of an arrangement to begin with, as a first step in the direction of creating a communalism-free polity.

Pressurizing the leadership of a mainstream national party for allocating tickets to a person from a particular community and a political party with less than 10 voters hijacking a constituency from UDF or LDF is something that we are all aware but always something that is being ignored. It is all at the behest of confidence of their ability to play a communal card during election.

While practitioners of this kind of communal politics thrive all across the State of Kerala and all across the political spectrum , communalization of politics that is also happening with the sanction and approval from the religious leadership.

This trend is being adopted by more and more groups day by day, while how one could use the communal tag effectively being the decisive factor. Just for instance, for a Christian to be successful in the political fray is much to do with how effectively he/she could evoke his/her communal identity.

We need to understand that riots that take place in Gujarat or Orissa and the kind of politics that is being practiced by some of the leaders with the tactic support from the Church leadership is all one and the same.

But there are positive initiatives to clean up the scenario by creating a larger and meaningful secular political space other than that of drinkers’ fellowships in and around arrack/toddy shops.

Members of Dharma Rajya Vethi led by Swami Sachidananda Bharathi are travelling all across Kerala in an attempt to create awareness against alcoholism, as part of their larger movement for a second freedom struggle and to create a violence free, corruption free, hartal free and liquor free Kerala.

Formed in 2009, Dharma Rajya Vethi is a secular political platform consisting of Gandhians, spiritualists, social activists, social workers, businessmen, and professionals etc. The campaign motto is “alcohol free Kerala Panchayats”. The journey began in Malappuram on May 27th.

Dharma Rajya Vethi is planning to make their political presence felt by contesting in upcoming elections. It may not replace communal political parties immediately, but would provide an alternative socio-spiritual and ideological option to Kerala, to begin with, a possible political awakening in the Gandhian lines!
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