Dr D Dhanuraj
Latin Catholics (LC) in Kerala number about 20 lakhs with 2 Archdioceses (Verapoly and Trivandrum), and 9 Dioceses. They have a significant presence in Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alleppey, and Thrissur districts. This community is politically influential, which, through its socio-political wing Kerala Latin Catholic Association (KLCA) and Christian Service Society (CSS), protects its interests. Traditionally, Christians in Kerala have supported the UDF alliance and same is the case with the LC also. The major reasons for support are-
- The professed atheism of the communist party-backed LDF.
- The involvement of the church in health and education sectors, which the LDF opposes due to its anti-commercialization view.
- The ‘abstinence’ stance taken by the LDF over alcohol prohibition unlike the clear pro-ban position of the Congress.
Even though the LC continued to support UDF during the early years of the last UDF government, certain incidents during their tenure encouraged the traditional fishermen to think differently in their approach to the assembly elections in 2016. Firstly, in February 2012, two fishermen belonging to the LC community were shot dead off the Kerala coast by Italian marines who were ostensibly protecting their commercial tanker Enrica Lexie from Somalian pirates. The sailors were arrested, leading to a diplomatic crisis between New Delhi and Rome. The subsequent ‘leniency’ shown by the centre had resulted in protests from the Kerala government even though the Congress party-led government in Delhi had already inflicted damage on their relationship with the community. The continued absence of a separate fisheries ministry at the centre and the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms of 2011 affecting tourism and development were other major concerns of the community with the centre. Secondly, denial of a caste certificate to post-1947 Latin converts by the government led to protests from the Latin Catholic community in 2011. It has lead to denial of reservation and other privileges in education and employment.Thirdly, the Kerala Region Latin Catholic Council felt that the state Congress leadership had failed to honour its commitment to appoint the Mayor of Ernakulam from the Latin Catholic community in 2015.
The Communist governments of the past have made no attempts to impose atheism, and have, in turn, participated in Church activities, leading to the Kerala Latin Catholic Association and some factions of the Kerala Congress (comprising Christian members) supporting the LDF in the past elections. The BJP, in an imitation of the Goa model, approached many religious heads of the Christian community in Kerala. The BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan held a meeting with Archbishop Soosa Pakiam of the Latin Diocese of Thiruvananthapuram and the Auxiliary Bishop R Christudas. Both the LDF and the UDF had fielded candidates from this community in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Ernakulam, a district with a significant population of Latin Catholics. KV Thomas was the UDF candidate, while Christy Fernandez was an independent supported by the LDF. The result was in advantageous the UDF.The LDF approached the president of the Kerala Latin Catholic Association, Shaji George, to contest the 2016 Assembly election in its seat but he refused.
Following this shift from a clear UDF support, the Latin Catholic Church has issued statements to maintain an equal distance from all political parties. Archbishop Soosa Pakiam asked people to accept a candidate irrespective of their caste, creed, provided the interests of the community were protected. The Congress, in response, has banked on the prohibition policy to bring back Christian votes. Father Francis Xavier, deputy secretary of the Kerala Regional Latin Catholic Council, said that prohibition alone does not guarantee a full-fledged UDF support from the church; the record of the candidate and other policy questions are of equal concern. Hence, he left the choice of the vote to the conscience of the people.
The votes from this community seem to have mirrored the neutral position of the leadership: the election result shows a 50:50 split in votes between the UDF and the LDF instead of 70:30 split in favour of UDF as was the case in the past. Particularly in the poll outcomes of Kollam and Alleppey districts signifies LC support to LDF this time. In Trivandrum district, the BJDS factor split votes for LDF that helped UDF victory in some of the constituencies. Moreover, the ideology of LDF could be easily identified by the fishermen and coir workers of LC community especially at a remorseful outing of UDF innings towards the end. The trend has shown individual outliers based on the candidates, and their influence over the LC leaderships in particular constituencies, especially in the central Kerala. This, in fact, exposes the lack of unified voice emanating from the different diocese and the leadership from southern Kerala to central Kerala. There is a dramatic shift in the behaviour of LC votes from Trivandrum to Ernakulam as more, and more influential community members are present towards central Kerala. They are educated and more affluent as compared to their counterparts in southern districts. The lack of a state-level leader affects their bargaining powers with the government.
Featured Image source : india.com
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