The crisis that is brewing across the State’s rubber plantations could once again influence Kerala politics. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year, the influential Catholic Church has decided to co-opt the farmers’ cause and exert pressure on the Union and State governments. The controversial statement by Thalassery archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplani that the settler farmers would help the BJP win if it raised the floor price of rubber to ₹300, is widely regarded as the first salvo in this direction.
‘Sense of dread’
According to Fr. Jacob G. Palakkappilly, official spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), the archbishop was just highlighting ‘the sense of dread’ that had intensified across Kerala’s rubber plantations. “The Kerala Congress parties, which claim to espouse pro-farmer politics are doing nothing to check the crisis. Same is the case with the Left Democratic and the United Democratic Fronts,” he observed.
The Catholic Church has been making consistent efforts to pitch the issue to the authorities through politicians across parties. “We have been in touch with Kerala Congress(M) chairman Jose K. Mani, MP; Goa Governor Sreedharan Pillai; and West Bengal Governor C.V. Ananda Bose, among others,” he said.
Plans after Easter
This stand-off between the Church and governments is slated to escalate after this Easter with the former planning a series of actions in support of the rubber growers. “A representative meeting of Infam will be held at the Pastoral Orientation Centre (POC) Palarivattom after Easter for preparing this action plan. The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) under the Chairmanship of Kanjirappally Bishop Mar Jose Pulikkal too will intervene in the matter,” said Fr. Palakkappilly.
Kerala Congress parties
With the BJP seeking to leverage the situation to its end, stakes are high for the Kerala Congress parties, which traditionally commanded significant influence in rubber-growing areas. They have been forced to act while battling discreetly the insidious influence of the right wing.
“The statement by archbishop Pamplani was indeed a criticism of the Union government’s policies. These policies are going to become a discussion point in the upcoming parliamentary elections as well,” Mr. Mani told mediapersons, while asserting that the Church never pursued political interests.