For whom the vote goes: looking beyond UDF

But this time, Mani may be up for a tough fight owing to anti-incumbency, factionalism in his party, acute agrarian crisis in the region, and corruption charges against him.

Written by Liz Mathew | Pala/ Changanacherry | Published: April 30, 2016 3:51:44 am
K M Mani, Pala, Kerala Congress (M), kerala, kerala assembky elections 2016, Christian-dominated constituency, pala Christians, kerala news Nuns outside a poll office of Kerala Congress (Mani). Express

K M Mani’s name has become synonymous with Pala. The Kerala Congress (M) leader has represented this Christian-dominated constituency in the Assembly since 1965, when it was formed. But this time, Mani may be up for a tough fight owing to anti-incumbency, factionalism in his party, acute agrarian crisis in the region, and corruption charges against him.

“It is time Pala has a different MLA. It looks like the constituency is heading for a change,” said Shaji, an LIC agent in the town.

A Pathrose, a labourer associated with rubber tapping, said: “His (Mani’s) image has been dented. He has failed to protect small-scale rubber farmers (a majority in the constituency). People are also disappointed with the way he promotes his family members.”

V J Joseph, a farmer, is disenchanted with Mani and his party. He believes LDF candidate Mani C Kappen—an NCP leader who lost to Mani in 2011 by 5,259 votes—is popular enough to defeat Mani. “There are undercurrents against him. But in the last minute, the Bishops ensure that he wins. All nuns in more than a dozen convents in Pala will vote for him,” Joseph said.

Not just Mani, many candidates in the Congress-led UDF rely on support of Christians, especially in central Kerala, where the community is influential. Hence, UDF has been protective of the community’s interests.

The UDF government’s liquor policy and prohibition has not gone well with a section of the community, which says it has put thousands out of a job and “taken the fun out of life”. The men, who used to enjoy “two-three pegs after the day’s hard work” are disappointed. But the women are happy. “At least the men are home in the evenings,” said Mary, a housewife. A pre-poll directive from Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference has asked the community to reject those who oppose prohibition.

The Christian community in Kerala comprises various denominations with followers owing allegiance to Catholic, Syrian Church or Anglican Church. The Church leadership, which has fundamental differences with Communists, had at one point advised the faithful not to vote for “atheist parties”. Although the hostility has reduced, due to change in the Left’s approach to the community, community leaders say the church still cannot accept the Left’s stand on faith.

The Left has managed to woo Christians among the fishermen and Marthomites — whom the RSS considers true Indian Christians — and the Orthodox Church has publicly declared its pro-Narendra Modi stand. But, largely, the community has remained loyal to the UDF so far.

Notwithstanding its fight with the Church on religious conversion, BJP has been trying to woo Christians in Kerala for some time now, especially after its leadership felt that consolidation of Hindus in its favour would not be easy. A remark by Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan of Mar Thoma Church, during the election campaign has given hopes to BJP. Party insiders say the Marthoma church’s support could help BJP candidate Sreedharan Pillai in Chengannoor, considered a Congress bastion.

Paul Zachariah, writer and political analyst, does not believe the Church has any role in politics: “It cannot influence the community, except some elders. But the poor and illiterate people in the coastal lines are different. They have closer ties with the Church.”

Political observers said BJP could attract a section of Christians because of the influence of NRI community, among whom Modi is a favourite, also because of the party’s approach to Muslims. “Yes, the community has anti-Islamic feeling due to economic and historical reasons. Muslims have moved ahead as they are more enterprising businessmen. They have no inhibition in taking up any job whereas Christians still have prejudices,” Zachariah said.
However, he added that BJP has so far not been able to exploit this “feeling” to its advantage.

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