Controversial Catholic bishop Pamplany draws ire of CPI(M) with speech denigrating Kerala political martyrs

Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplany is known for his overtures to the BJP-RSS, and the BJP state unit strongly defended him in the latest row.

ByK A Shaji

Published May 21, 2023 | 9:43 PMUpdated May 22, 2023 | 7:40 AM

Mar Joseph Pamplany, the Archbishop of Thalassery. (Wikimedia Commons)

Controversial Syro Malabar Church Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplany found himself on a sticky wicket on Sunday, 21 May, when his comments denigrating political martyrs of Kerala drew angry responses from leaders of the ruling CPI(M).

This is nothing new, though. Pamplany has time and again hit the headlines for his overtures to the BJP-RSS, much to the chagrin of the Left parties in Kerala.

The bishop, who heads the Thalassery diocese of the powerful Oriental segment of the Catholic Church, courted controversy by attempting to compare political martyrs with apostles of Jesus Christ at a meeting of Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM), the youth wing of the Church.

Addressing the youth convention on Saturday, Pamplany opined that most political martyrs were killed accidentally while engaging in unnecessary commotion with rivals.

According to him, another section became martyrs by falling to their deaths from bridges while being chased by the police.

He claimed Jesus Christ’s apostles became martyrs by making supreme sacrifices to the cause they represented.

He also cited portions from the Bible to justify his claim that the 12 apostles of Jesus were different from political martyrs.

“The Apostles’ martyrdom is not like that of the political martyrs. Some of the political martyrs got shot after getting into unnecessary fights with someone, or some fell from bridges while fleeing from the police after some protests. But the 12 martyred apostles (of Jesus) sacrificed their lives for truth and the world’s well-being,” said Pamplany.

Videos of his speech went viral on Sunday, after which senior Left leaders came out with scathing attacks on him and reminded him of his past statements supporting the BJP-RSS.

Related: BJP faces an uphill task in wooing Kerala Christians

Priest issues clarification

Bishop

Mar Joseph Pamplany, the Archbishop of Thalassery, wearing the traditional farmers’ cap. (Supplied).

However, when CPI(M) leaders launched a scathing counter-attack on Pamplany by asking how he was treating the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders, the bishop preferred to relent.

When South First contacted him on Sunday evening, Pamplany said he always respected martyrs, and those who created the controversy had quoted him out of context.

He said he never aimed to humiliate anyone, and what was being circulated over social media was just a few words taken selectively from different parts of a long speech.

Meanwhile, Kerala BJP president K Surendran strongly defended Pamplany, saying it was no wonder that the CPI(M), which gave martyrdom status even to those killed by snake bites, was targeting the bishop.

“The bishop has exposed the so-called martyrs who died of snakebites and following altercations in toddy shops. CPI(M) strongholds are known for political violence, and they practise the politics of elimination in such places,” he said.

Related: Church leaders spreading BJP-RSS hate politics in Kerala, says priest

Left parties hit back

Thalassery is part of the northern Kannur district of Kerala, which constitutes the strongest citadel of the CPI(M).

Home district of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, party state secretary MV Govindan, and LDF convener EP Jayarajan, Kannur has a huge list of political martyrs, most of whom belong to the CPI(M).

Kannur’s volatile politics often witnesses clashes between cadres of the CPI(M), the BJP-RSS, and the Congress. Each party treats those killed in the clashes as martyrs.

Through his statement, Pamplany was seen as attempting to take a dig at the politics of martyrdom, which was sentimentally carried out by the CPI(M) for a long time.

EP Jayarajan CPIM indigo flight ban

EP Jayarajan. (Supplied)

Thus, EP Jayarajan and CPI(M) state committee member P Jayarajan led the attacks on the bishop, saying he had no right to insult martyrs.

According to Jayarajan, many Christians were martyred in the recent riots in Manipur because of the anti-people policies of the BJP government there.

“How can he insult the martyrs? They are called martyrs after they lost their lives when the communal or fascist forces murdered them. There are martyrs from various political parties and religions,” he told reporters.

The LDF convenor also said that “such baseless comments” — against the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for society — could not be accepted.

Recalling the past statements of the bishop supporting the BJP-RSS, Jayarajan said Pamplany had an old habit of making sensitive and controversial comments which do not help promote social solidarity and amity.

He said the Christian community in the state denounced his partisan statements whenever they were reported.

“Gandhiji’s was not an accidental death after falling from the bridge. Communalist Godse killed him using a gun. The same is the case of political martyrs who sacrificed themselves for the larger causes of the country’s people,” said Jayarajan.

Also read: Kerala BJP leaders visit prominent bishops for Easter

A history of controversy

Congress leaders in the state also reacted against the statement of Pamplany, but were guarded in their statements for fear that cornering the bishop might help him establish an easier understanding with the BJP-RSS.

Only recently, Pamplany promised to back the BJP in the Lok Sabha coming polls in 2024 if it increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of natural rubber to ₹300.

“Being the party in power at the Centre, the BJP can decide the policy. The rubber-growing families are getting only ₹120 per kg for the product,” the influential archbishop said at a farmers’ meeting at Alakode in the Kannur district on 18 March, triggering a major controversy.

“The production cost is estimated to be ₹220. If the Centre ensures ₹300 per kg of rubber, the farmers affiliated to us will ensure an MP for the BJP from the state,” local newspapers quoted Pamplany as saying at that time.

The prelate said farmers would vote for any political formation if they received a minimum support price of ₹300 per kg for natural rubber.

He also told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that such a support price would end his regret about not having a single MP from Kerala.

Among Kerala’s Catholic bishops, at least half a dozen, including Pamplany, regularly issue statements indirectly supporting the BJP-RSS.

He came under severe criticism from Kerala’s ruling and Opposition parties for this statement. The BJP, of course, was an exception.

In September last year, Pamplany issued a pastoral letter in the Archdiocese of Tellicherry, urging girls to be cautious against Islamic extremist elements trying to snare them by feigning love.

In the letter, he also urged the Christian community to revamp programmes to make teenagers aware of and equip them to evade “love traps” set by extremist elements.

The letter, issued without provocation, appeared more like an extended version of the “love jihad” bogey manufactured in Kerala by the Sangh Parivar elements and exported nationwide to fuel Islamophobia.

As usual, the Sangh Parivar welcomed the prelate’s statement that time.

(With PTI inputs)