For the first time in Tamil Nadu, a Roman Catholic priest is contesting the Lok Sabha polls. It is the fledgling AAP fighting for a foothold in the State that has given him the ticket. Rev Fr M P Jesuraj (30), a staunch anti-nuclear crusader, has been fielded from the southern Tirunelveli constituency.
Though the Church in states like Kerala and the North-East plays an active role in electoral politics, those who have opted for priesthood have generally stayed away from the lure of political office. The cannon law (Cannon 287) of the Catholic Church too explicitly forbids them from accepting any civil office of authority.
But, Jesuraj is determined to take the plunge. “There is no looking back. I have informed the ecclesiastical authorities and have sought permission. I was told that it would be forwarded to the authorities and I hope to get a favourable response. There is no opposition from the Church, but I am yet to receive any communication,” he says.
“It is the people whom I have been working with, who decided that I should contest the election. Another reason was the realisation that political power is necessary to bring in policy changes for sustainable development,” says the young priest.
He rejects criticism that contesting elections was a betrayal of the anti-nuclear movement.
“We have not abandoned the movement against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project. The decision to contest elections and that too on the AAP ticket is a conscious move to carry forward the movement.”
Ordained a priest in 2000 at Palayamkottai, Jesuraj hails from the nearby Chettikulam village in Tirunelveli where he had his schooling. It was during his stay at the Ponamallee seminary for his studies in Theology that he came in contact with liberation theology and Tamil nationalism. Later, he was instrumental in launching a forum, ‘Tamilar Kalam’, to espouse the cause of Tamil nationalist ideology. Till now, he has confined his campaign to villages in and around Idinthakarai. “I will move to electioneering and travel to places after filing the nomination papers,” he says. The trio is set to file papers on March 29.
If he succeeds, he will be the second priest in the country to have accomplished the feat. In the 1977 parliamentary election, a Catholic priest had won from Bihar, but subsequently resigned as an MP.