THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Were it not for the district administration’s tactless approach to the eviction of the Spirit in Jesus encroachment from the strategic location at Chinnakanal in Munnar, the State would have benefited by a worthy precedent to keep in mind. Luckily, the eviction did not fan communal passions to the point of a flare-up. The clergy reacted with decorum though expressing the pain of witnessing the Cross being shorn of its concrete base and felled. All of them, barring a KCBC official, approved of the well-intentioned move (of Sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman) to sanitize the hills of encroachers. Perhaps this doused passions.
Cardinal Mar George Alencherry and Archbishop Soosapakiam appreciated Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s stance, which he made clear on Friday evening: “lack of administrative caution”. Although Mr Vijayan’s public censure of the officials was being interpreted as a morale-downer, many veterans who had served in Government feel Mr Vijayan did the right thing, by empathizing with those whose sentiment had been hurt and sending a clear message that the Government’s policy is not cross-busting. The implication is that there might be illegal religious structures strewn across Kerala but no one had the unwritten mandate to dismantle them. Mr Vijayan foresaw chaos, which he sought to avert through his opportune clarification.
Says former Additional Chief Secretary D Babu Paul: “Suppose the religious reaction was hostile, who would check a possible communal backlash. It’s the CM who has to face the music. The buck stops with him”. Dr Babu Paul recalled an order he issued while he was sub-collector in Kollam in 1965-67. He spotted a chapel coming in Kundara on the Chencottah road and issued a stop memo on the spot. The Collector stayed his order and let the chapel rise. But years later the chapel had to be shifted to safer location and it happens to be only non-east-facing chapel. All Orthodox worship centres have the facade facing the east.
“I took the on-the-spot decision because the chapel belonged to my community and I knew the Bishop quite well. In a different context, I would take those concerned into confidence. Which is a mere tact and we need lots of it in governance”, he said. Cemeteries, churches and temples have given way to roads but such decisions involved the sagacity of all those involved, especially the aggrieved party. At Chinnakanal, the alleged encroacher had showed no remorse at “abusing the most scared Christian religious symbol of salvation” and planting it surreptitiously on public land for “profit, dispossession and domination. This is anti-religion and faith suicide”, opined Fr Paul Thelakkat, the editor of Light of Truth.
The Revenue officials had served two notices on the self-styled Thrissur-based prayer group but the group showed scant regard for the ultimatum. Sub-Collector Venkitraman apprised Revenue Minister N Chandrasekharan of the group’s defiant mood when he was asked to go ahead with the eviction. But the minister advised Mr Venkitaraman to ensure sufficient force lest it should become another embarrassment like eviction in Munnar a fortnight ago. The team, comprising a CI-led police picket and officials of the Forest, Disaster Management and Public Land Protection Force, set off at 4:30 am but the officials missed the element of stealth. They did not factor in the swell of sentiments at ordinary souls watching the Cross being felled. “But for this, it was well done”, quipped Dr Babu Paul.
Recall the Christian-Muslim mayhem in coastal Vizhinjam in July 1995 when locals put up a cross and statues in a resolve to atone for the murder of three parishioners. IG Jacob Punnose got an SI to dig the earth and three bodies were buried near a mosque. But neither a TV nor print image was available there to rouse passions. Now the question is whether the Spirit in Jesus episode will put brakes on the protracted Munnar Ops. If it does, it will expose the LDF Government’s double standards. Local CPM netas’ bravado sounds sinister....