By Paritosh Chakma
Is it necessary to put religion aside from politics? Well, the Church in Kerala does not seem to think so. Recently, the powerful Latin Catholic Church in Kerala has reportedly sent a recommendation letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi urging her to consider Hybi Eden, president of Congress’ student wing National Students Union of India in the state, as party candidate for the Ernakulam Lok Sabha seat.
The letter, written by the Varapuzha Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil, who is also president of the Kerala Regional Latin Catholic Council, provides two other names whom he deems suitable. Incidentally, all the three including Hybi Eden belong to the Latin Church.
This re-ignites the debate whether politics should be separated from the religion and religious institutions. Surely by recommending specific names the Kerala church is being directly involved in the politics.
Or does it want a social change through politics by fielding better (read as clean and efficient) candidates like the Presbyterian Church of Mizoram?
In Mizoram, the Presbyterian Church formed an election watchdog called Mizoram Peoples Forum (MPF) ahead of the state assembly elections held on 2 December 2008 to bring political and electoral reforms in the state. The MPF, backed by many other mass-based organizations including the all-powerful Young Mizo Association, has urged the voters to vote for candidates having good track records, who are clean and efficient to address the concerns of the people. It rightly did not name any specific candidates to the political parties or canvassed for any candidate. Recommending or campaigning for particular candidates would have surely eroded the impartiality of the Church and its child, MPF. It would have been then seen as an act of impropriety and as direct involvement in political affairs. This is where the Church of Kerala fundamentally differs from the Church in Mizoram.
In Mizoram, the MPF campaigned, among others, against use of money by the political parties/candidates to buy votes, house to house campaigning which encouraged bribes and mass feasting. In the run up to the elections, the Church and MPF asked the political parties to desist from fielding corrupt candidates (including the ones with criminal records).
I know the MPF had little impacts in many constituencies, particularly in rural pockets but the motive to keep politics clean and progressive has been commendable. The diktat - if we can call it so - of the MPF had no legal implications but it in “no non-sense” term warned of action by taking up the matter with the Election Commission if adequate evidence of violation was found against any candidate.