Kerala: Archbishop’s memoirs could leave Congress, Left red-faced

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Powathil’s memoirs, which appeared in Kudumbajyothi, monthly magazine of the Catholic Archdiocese of Changanassery could leave the Left and the Congress in displeasure.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Published: November 2, 2015 1:55:17 am

Amid the campaigning for local body polls in Kerala, contents of a retired archbishop’s memoirs could embarrass both the ruling UDF and Opposition LDF.

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Powathil’s memoirs, which appeared in Kudumbajyothi, monthly magazine of the Catholic Archdiocese of Changanassery, say T V Thomas, a former CPI minister, had expressed his desire to receive sacraments (penance and holy communion significant for Christians, particularly Catholics).

This could leave Kerala Communists red-faced, as they believe religion has no place in their movement. The article could also revive memories of a church statement that CPM MLA Mathai Chacko, who died in 2006, had been given the last sacrament by a priest on his deathbed. The statement had triggered furious remarks against bishops by then party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

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Powathil’s article in the magazine’s November issue could put Congress leaders in an awkward position, too. It refers to an agitation by private college managements in 1972, when the Congress’s youth and student wings took a stand against minority-run educational institutions. Then Kerala Students Union (KSU) leaders, including A K Antony and current PCC president V M Sudheeran, had reportedly even sought a review of a constitutional provision giving special protection to minority-run education institutions.

“The student wings protested against church-run institutions in Thrissur, Trivandrum and Changanassery,” Powathil, then auxiliary bishop of Changanassery, said. “I remember (current state culture minister) K C Joseph shouting slogans before the bishop’s house.”

Congress MP and former Union minister Vayalar Ravi, however, said the KSU had taken up the issue to build a progressive image for the party. “However, realising that it had alienated Christians, who have always backed Congress, Indiraji intervened.”

Antony said he did not regret his stand. “The protest was not against minorities, but against exploitation of education institute managements and for the rights of teachers and students.”

In the 1970s, the tussle between the Church and Congress led to a stalemate, with private education institutions run by Christian managements shutting down for months. On May 9, 1972, KSU leader M M Hassan brought a resolution in Kerala University Senate meet asking the Centre to give the state control of minority-run institutions. Later, a Youth Congress meeting in Malappuram demanded that education institutes be nationalised.

The then Congress-CPI coalition government decided to bring the fees in private colleges on a par with that of government colleges, and refused to provide aid to minority-run institutions. In protest, church-run colleges went on strike. Finally, CM Achuta Menon rolled out a compromise formula by which government would pay salaries of teachers in minority-run institutes if they agreed to certain conditions in appointments and admissions.

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