The Tamil Nadu Bishops Council's decision to support the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance in the upcoming elections will vitiate the political atmosphere in the state, reports R Ramasubramanian.
In a decision that could have dire consequences, the Tamil Nadu Bishops Council has extended its support to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance in the upcoming assembly elections in the state.
Tamil Nadu goes to the polls on May 16 and counting will take place on May 19.
In a statement issued in Madurai on May 3, Anthony Pappusamy, president of Tamil Nadu Bishops Council and Madurai archbishop, announced that the decision to support the alliance was taken to "safeguard secularism and democratic values". However, Pappusamy also had a word of caution: "We want to make it clear that the council's decision did not mean it considered these parties clean, but among the available lot they were the lesser evil."
The Bishops Council's decision has generated a furore not only among intellectuals and observers, but also among a section of the Christian community in the state.
"This had never happened in the past. This is an open call given in the name of religion. This is punishable under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act. We are going to take up this issue in a big way. We will formally meet the Election Commission very soon," MG Deivasahayam, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer and one of the conveners of the Forum for Catholic Unity, told Rediff.com.
He said the Bishops Council does not represent even a miniscule section of the over 44 lakh Christian population, or 6.12 per cent, of the state. He also warned that this sort of behaviour by the Bishops Council will have an adverse effect as far as maintaining communal amity in the state is concerned.
Others too share these sentiments.
"This is a dangerous trend. In the fight for secularism, everyone including the minorities should join hands. This will become a fodder for the other side because both the majority and minority communalists thrive on each other's strengths and weaknesses. Appealing anyone to vote for a political party on the basis of the religion or caste will completely vitiate the atmosphere,” said R Vijayashankar, editor, Frontline magazine.
"At a time when the southern districts of Tamil Nadu are slowly slipping into communal politics, this sort of decision will further endanger the atmosphere,” Vijayashankar added.
Writer and political analyst Aazhi Senthilnathan said the Bishops Council is forcing its decision on the people and snatching away their basic right.
"The council's decision is dangerous. By imposing your view on your community, you are snatching away their right to choose their candidate.
"There are voters in the community who vote for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the All India Anna DMK, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and even the Bharatiya Janata Party. But now, you are forcing them to vote for one particular party. This is not the job of the bishops. This will fuel communal tendencies in the other side of the fence,” said Senthilnathan.
However, the BJP is unmoved by the council's decision.
“We welcome this open decision by the Bishops Council. Everyone has a right to recommend a political party to others. But see the double standards. If a particular group or community of people extend their support to the BJP, you will go to town and say the BJP is communal. Here is an organisation which is openly giving a statement to vote against the BJP and everyone is quiet," S R Sekar, treasurer of the Tamil Nadu BJP, told Rediff.com.
Questioning the secularists, Sekar said, "For several of those pseudo-secularists, consolidating one particular community's vote against the BJP is not communal but if the majority community voted in favour of the BJP, then it’s communal."
"The Bishops Council’s decision is nothing but blatant communalism. This is an open communal call. This will indeed strengthen our chances in the southern districts of the state," he said.
Soliciting the support of religious bodies, caste groups and even small and sundry outfits by political parties during elections is not new.
There were over 800 support letters given by various smaller caste and other social outfits to the AIADMK while the DMK received over 600 such letters lending support for the upcoming polls.
Though the utility value of these smaller caste and religious outfits is marginal, both the DMK and the AIADMK encourage this as each and every vote counts in a multi-cornered fight.
In the past, both the Dravidian majors used to make lavish promises to religious groups during polls.
During the 2011 assembly elections, Jayalalithaa promised financial of help of Rs 20,000 to 500 Christians who undertake pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Even for Muslims, during Ramzan, few thousand kilogrammes of rice are given to select mosques.
Cajoling caste groups by declaring the birthdays of caste leaders as auspicious and conducting special prayers at the expense of the concerned district administration are also very common in the state.
In short, when it comes to political appeasement, there is no difference between the ruling AIADMK and the principle opposition, the DMK.
Image: DMK treasurer M K Stalin campaigns for Congress candidate Karate R Thyagarajan from Mylapore constituency in Chennai. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo.