Seven-year-old Noah and Micah, 6, have just returned home after the Palm Sunday Mass. Carefree and joyous, oblivious to the tension simmering within the Church, they run around holding palm fronds as their parents and grandparents look on fondly.Watching them so full of cheer, their father has only one prayer – the age-old Church dispute and internal feud should end with the current generation. The faithful belonging to the Orthodox faction of the Malankara Church are a tired and bruised lot.
While many from the Orthodox faction empathise with the Jacobites regarding the turn of events over the past one year, they are unhappy with the state government for having neglected them, seemingly. Given the prevalence of a common sentiment that the LDF should not retain power, the fight will be particularly tough this time for the Left in the Orthodox strongholds of Adoor, Kadampanad, Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Kottarakkara constituencies.
“The issue is centred around religious belief and faith, rather than political or materialistic victories,” says Aaron Varghese, the boys’ father.A businessman and a resident of Manakala in Adoor constituency, he says Orthodox members connect and sympathise with Jacobites because they can relate to the latter’s current state.
“We would be equally devastated emotionally if we lost our churches as we too are sentimentally attached to our churches. We ardently hope that an amicable resolution is found and that all this dispute and fighting would end with our generation. We don’t want our children to go through the same feelings, and getting dragged into courts, in the future. So far, the Church hasn’t taken any political stand and it’s highly unlikely that it would take one in this election,” Aaron says.
CPI candidate Chittayam Gopakumar had won in Adoor last time and is expected to win again.
Meanwhile, Congress candidate M G Kannan, being a local resident from a lower-middle-class family, is expected to bag a fair share of votes. The constituency has over 20,000 Orthodox votes.“It’s a tough fight in Adoor this time and Chittayam is not expected to win by a huge margin,” says retired police officer George Varghese, Aaron’s father.
“Personal inclinations in politics are clear in everyone’s minds, and most will stick to their traditional loyalties. It’s difficult to alter political decisions once people have made up their minds. The LDF families will vote for the LDF and likewise for the UDF. But as far as the Orthodox community is concerned, the events that have unfolded over the past couple of months will be fresh in their minds, and they will vote accordingly. Spirituality shouldn’t be connected with politics.”
The Orthodox Church has, however, decided to officially maintain a safe distance from all political parties. “Over the years, the Church has learnt that many hollow promises are made by the candidates and their parties just to seek votes. Citing many reasons, they subsequently fail to keep their promises or help the community in difficult times. We are deeply upset and distressed with the LDF government for not implementing the Supreme Court order. Though, initially, they supported us, they backtracked and changed their stand completely,” says Fr Johns Abraham Konat, spokesperson of the Orthodox Church.
He says the Church has given people the freedom to take their own decisions though their political thinking has perhaps been affected.
“People are aware of it. However, in places where candidates belonging to the Orthodox community are fielded, like Veena George (LDF) and Biju Mathew (BJP) in Aranmula, they are likely to attract more community votes,” Fr Konat says.Jose Panantazhikathu, an ex-serviceman from Kadampanad, feels the Church dispute is unlikely to cause a major shift in vote share.
“In the Kadampanad region itself, there are at least 5,000-6,000 votes, with a majority belonging to the Orthodox faction. Regarding the Church issues, though there were talks with the BJP, people are not convinced about their support,” he says.His friend and neighbour Jose Thomas agrees that deep down, the Orthodox faction does not want to encourage the LDF to power.
In the Kollam and Kottarakkara constituencies, Christians are unhappy that no political party has nominated candidates from their community. “Both these constituencies have a substantial number of Christian votes, in the range of 25,000-50,000. Nominating a candidate from the community would have been a wise move. Sadly, that has not been taken into account.
However, it is certain that the UDF candidate in Konni, Robin Peter, who is from the Orthodox community, will bag a share of the Orthodox votes,” says Fr Solu Koshy Raju, secretary, Kollam diocese.In general, he says, there is resentment that the government did not show the same alacrity it did in trying to implement the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala verdict when it came to the Church dispute.
“But a large number of voters are neutral,” Fr Solu says.