NEW DELHI, Mar 20: A controversy has erupted over an influential archbishop in Kerala offering to help the BJP open its account in Kerala in the 2024 parliament elections if the Centre agreed to increase the rubber procurement price to ₹ 300 per kg.
Metropolitan archbishop of Thalassery archdiocese in Kannur district, Joseph Pamplany, quickly clarified that he had made the offer to the BJP government at the centre on behalf of farmers distressed at the falling price of rubber, and not on behalf of the Catholic Church. He said he had mentioned the BJP as it was the ruling party at the Centre, and the farmers would welcome such an announcement from any political party.
Welcoming his statement, Kerala BJP chief K Surendran said the Centre would respond positively to the suggestion. Union minister of state for external affairs, V Muraleedharan, said the archbishop’s statement showed the BJP was not untouchable for Christian minorities.
“Why was the archbishop trolled after he made the statement? They consider the minorities, the Christians, their vote bank. They want Christians to be their vote bank. This stand is getting exposed,” he said. The BJP, in a press conference on Monday, also accused the ruling Left front in Kerala, and the Congress, of treating Christians in the state like a “vote bank” and not allowing them to express their views freely if they favour the party in power at the Centre.
Muraleedharan accused the Left and the Congress — the two main parties in the state — of targeting those religious Christian leaders whose statements tend to support the BJP. Mr Muraleedharan said Joseph Pamplany has been targeted, including online, for his views.
“Are the CPI(M) and the Congress saying they (Christian priests) don’t have the freedom to express their views if they indirectly support the government of India? It is a ridiculous situation that both these parties claim to be pro-minorities but if Christian leaders speak some facts which may favour the government of India, then they pounce upon them,” the BJP leader from the state said.
He also targeted the Congress for blaming the BJP for alleged attacks on churches, saying these incidents have been reported from Chhattisgarh, where the country’s main opposition party is in power. He noted that the BJP is in power in states such as Goa and those in the northeast, where Christians are in large numbers. The minister said earlier an archbishop, who had raised the issue of “narcotics jihad”, was also targeted by the two parties.
Speaking at a meeting attended mostly by farmers, Pamplany had said, “No protest in a democracy has value if it does not translate into votes during elections.” “We will tell the central government that whichever your party may be, we will vote for you if you can increase the price of rubber to ₹ 300. The migrant population will address the issue of your lack of an MP from here,” he had said.
Rubber plantation growers have been distressed as the production cost of rubber is reportedly higher than the trading price of ₹ 120 to ₹ 150 per kg.