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Church campaigns give communists electoral drubbing


May 19 2009

Church leaders in Kerala claim their campaigns have succeeded in giving communists a drubbing in the recent election.

Having won 19 seats in the 2004 election, the Marxist Party of India that heads the southern Indian state´s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) was confident of its success in the latest elections, but won only four of the state´s 20 parliamentary seats.

The Church in Kerala has been recognized as being integral to this defeat according to A. Vijayaraghavan, a member of the Marxist Party´s central committee. Responding to their electoral defeat, he told UCA News the Church campaigns had helped the United Democratic Front (UDF) to win a maximum number of seats from the state, adding, "We will review our programs and policies and rectify our mistakes. As a party, we are open to public scrutiny."

Father Stephen Alathara, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops´ Council (KCBC), said the election result was a "shock treatment for the communists who launched mudslinging campaigns against Church leaders."

His comments were matched by retired Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry, who led the anti-communist campaigns. "The arrogance and attitudes of the ruling government and its leaders ensured their defeat in the election," he said celebrating the victory.

Relations between the communists and the Church in Kerala have always been uncomfortable, beginning in 1957 when the communists made history by forming the first democratically elected communist government in the world. Relations soured further during the recent election campaigns when Pinarayi Vijayan, state secretary of the Marxist Party, publicly denounced bishops as "ugly creatures."

Father Alathara also alleged that "Church-run institutions were ransacked across the state by the LDF´s youth outfits" in pre-election violence last year.

Church ire was also piqued by government policies that tried to curtail minority rights, take over Christian institutions and moves to introduce textbooks that purportedly questioned God´s existence. This led the KCBC to issue pastoral letters that appealed to Christians not to vote for those preaching atheism and engaging in violence.

But in a state where Christians form only 19 percent of Kerala´s 31.8 million-strong population, Father Alathara says it was the Church´s credibility that outmatched the communists.

Archbishop Powathil also said the Church was instrumental in creating awareness among Catholics about the dangers facing the Church and its institutions in the state. "We don´t want favors from the government but we need social justice," he said.

Ultimately the ruling front could not win any of the Christian-dominated constituencies in Kerala. It was the Church´s campaign, according to Father Alathara, that was integral to the Congress-led UDF victory in 16 constituencies "with a thumping margin."

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church said he is happy that both the communists and pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people´s party) were drubbed in the election as these parties divide society on the basis of class, religions and caste.