Church, Marxists and a comrade’s corpse
Saj Mathews

Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan... in the news for controversies Kerala CPM state secretary Pinarai Vijayan...spearheading the faction feud
Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan... in the news for controversies Kerala CPM state secretary Pinarai Vijayan... spearheading the faction feud

THE aggravating war of nerves between the CPM, heading the ruling coalition in Kerala, and the Christian church, which accounts for at least one-fifth of the state’s vote bank, has even gone to the extent of making a late Marxist MLA born as a Christian turn in his grave.

Though it appears to be absurd and agonising to any sensible mind, it is yet another example of what exactly is happening in the amusing political plateau of the enlightened state where the two-year-old CPM-led Left coalition is apparently making news only with its agenda of controversies. The whole thing is getting spicier, thanks to the faction feud in the CPM between the groups led by the party’s state secretary Pinarai Vijayan and Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan.

The late Mathai Chacko, a non-controversial middle-aged Marxist fireband, who represented Thiruvampadi in the state assembly, was a Christian by birth. He turned a devoted Communist, got married to a Christian woman as per party formalities and was buried with party and state honours after his agonising death due to cancer a few months ago. The leaders of all political parties had only praise for his political and personal life.

Just three months ago, his rest in the grave was disturbed by a curious and at the same fierce controversy which was sparked off by the public revelation of a Catholic bishop that the late comrade had voluntarily accepted the "last communion" at his deathbed in the hospital from a priest assigned by the bishop. In the backdrop of a situation wherein the church and the party are at loggerheads on the issue of the state government’s policies in respect of the self- financing colleges and minority rights issues, the bishop’s revelation only added fuel to the fire.

The first salvo was fired by none other than CPM secretary Pinrai Vijayan, who minted no words in expressing his party’s anger at the bishop, and even went to the extent of remarking publicly that "whoever he may be, the person who said that the late Mathai Chacko, who led the pious life of a Communist, had voluntarily accepted the last communion from a priest is only telling a blatant lie, and he is nothing but a wretched creature". The only alibi of Vijayan later was that he did not mention any names

As usual the enlightened state’s media, especially the vernacular channels, virtually celebrated the issue, hosting a series of panel discussions involving leaders of political parties and the clergy, rebels in the Catholic church and prominent personalities of the state’s cultural and social life.

An unrelenting church made the priest involved to openly admit that he had administered the holy communion to the late MLA in hospital bed while an equally outrageous Pinarai Vijayan stuck on to his stand.

The story never ended there. The church came out with more "shocking revelations" like the church record of the marriage of Mathai Chacko and his wife, which they apparently had to manage in order to conduct the baptism the couple’s child.

The heat subsided on its own in the course of the following weeks but the whole episode cast a shadow of doubt on the statements of both the church and the party, and especially the provocation on the part of the bishop.

Many straight-thinking persons felt the whole controversy was unwarranted, uncharitable and unnecessary. Leaders of the church, who sparked off the controversy, and those of the party, who aggravated the same, were equally blamed and criticised. Also, the incident once again exposed the low level of the state’s politics. But the continuing confrontation of the church and CPM is certain to have its backlash in the next elections when once again the CPM will have to knock at the doors of bishop houses for Christian votes, point out political observers.

The estrangement of the church and the CPM-led ruling coalition is going from bad to worse day by day. The latest development is the recently-concluded conclave of church leaders and the Nair Service Society (NSS), the latter representing yet another aggrieved minority—the Nair community—to discuss plans to join hands to fight the anti-minority policies of the ruling LDF. Yes, Kerala is a permanent stage of not only genuine political experiments but also of amusing political dramas.