Thiruvananthapuram : Various churches ranging from Catholic, Mar Thoma, Orthodox, Jacobite, and CSI (Church of South India) coming out against the K-rail project, have sent shivers down the spine of the predominantly Christian political outfit, Kerala Congress (Mani).
The state is witnessing unprecedented protests from the people against the survey and the subsequent laying of stones to mark the properties to be taken over by the state for facilitating the project.
Women and Children in large numbers have come out against the state government conducting surveys and laying stones. The government officials including ministers have however claimed that this was not for earmarking the land for acquisition but was conducting the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study.
Bishop of Changanassery, Mar Joseph Perunthottam, who is part of the powerful Syro Malabar Catholic Church, has come out strongly against the state government using force against the protesting people. In an article in the mouthpiece of the Catholic church, ‘Deepika’, the powerful clergy said that the action of the government and the Left Front against those who support the agitation was not acceptable.
Moreover, the presence of several Christian priests at the epicentre of the agitation in Madapally, Chengannur has also surprised the government. An orthodox priest was injured in the police action to disperse the agitating crowd leading to major protests from all corners.
The powerful Kerala Catholic Bishop Conference (KCBC) has also strongly objected to the state government acquiring land for the Silverline semi-high-speed rail project. In a statement, the Secretary of Social Harmony and Vigilance of the KCBC, Father Michael Pulickan said that development must be inclusive.
He said Kerala is a place where several people lost everything in the name of development and a new project must have full support of the people of the state. He also said that while the state is in a major debt crunch and financial crisis, it has to be studied in detail as to whether such a project was necessary.
The Catholic priest also said that while environmentalists and social activists in large numbers are objecting to the project, the government must be transparent on the steps taken and must convince the people.
The hard-hitting statements of Changanassery Archbishop and the KCBC secretary have put the predominantly Catholic political party, Kerala Congress (Mani) in a spot. The party, an ally of the ruling Left Democratic Front, will have to face several questions from the public of central Kerala, which is its stronghold.
Party Chairman and Member of Parliament, Jose K. Mani is incommunicado and the party local leaders including the Changanassey legislator, Job Michael is facing the ire of the public.
Even the Bishops who had earlier extended their support to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan are now keeping a studied silence and most of them are not seen in the public after the protests started and the police used force to disperse the crowd.
Interestingly, Bishop Geevarghese Mar Coorilose of the Jacobite Church, who is a left sympathizer, has also come out strongly against the Silverline project and has participated in the massive protest march in the state capital. Bishop Thomas Mar Timotheos of the Orthodox church has also criticised the project and said that projects which create insecurity among people must not be implemented.
The strong stand taken by the Christian denominations in Kerala has upset the Left Front which is not able to build bridges with it using the good office of the Kerala Congress (M) as that party is itself in a corner due to the public ire. The Marthomite Church which is again a powerful denomination in Central Kerala has also come out against the K-Rail project as well as the Church of South India (CSI) which had left leanings.
Roy Mathew, Social activist, and political commentator told IANS, “The Left Front government has lost the plot and they have turned the people against it. The church denominations have come in support of the public as they could understand the ground realities and the CPI-M of today is a monolithic party and no one dares to object to the dictum of Pinarayi Vijayan.”
Interestingly, the Kerala Congress (M) will have to do a lot of explanations to the public in the strongholds of the party in Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, and Alappuzha districts as a majority of those affected by the project have come out in large numbers against the project.