Hunting with hound and running with hare

Anawkward and embarrassing development has happened in the Kerala Catholic Church when Fr Varghese Vallikkatt, the spokesperson of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), contradicted himself and the view of the Bishops’ Council on the Citizenship Amendment Act in a span of few days. In the press release of the Bishops’ Council, issued on December 18, 2019, Fr Vallikkatt stated: “The discrimination on the basis of religion shown in the Citizenship Amendment Bill (the Bill had become a law by the time the press release was issued) in deciding the legality of migration and granting citizenship rights to the migrants is against the tenets of the Constitution and secularism.” Thus, the KCBC expressed its protest against and opposition to the CAA.

But the mask seems to have dropped when Fr Vallikkatt wrote an article in Janmabhumi, a Malayalam daily with Sangh Parivar leanings, titled “Citizenship and Nationalism; some background thoughts.” Even before the ink in his press release dried up, he used the article to justify the Citizenship Amendment Act, thus contradicting the Bishops’ Council’s stand. He takes refuge in the global threat from ‘political Islam’ to buttress his point. He argues that one should not view the circumstances in which CAA was brought in only in the context of India’s internal political situations. He wants us to see the global scenario of increasing radical Islam and the forces behind it before making a judgment on CAA and its implementation.

There are several truths that Fr Vallikkatt’s article tries to hide. CAA is an instrument meant to decide and confer Indian citizenship. The touchstone of its validity and legality has to be the Constitution and existing laws. In fact, religion as an instrument of determining citizenship was rejected by the Constituent Assembly itself. CAA has been brought in violating the provisions of the Constitution. But Fr Vallikkatt conveniently sweeps apparent illegalities in CAA under the carpet, and harps on international circumstances and forces to support the Act.

The real purpose of the article is exposed when it portrays BJP as the only party which has analysed ‘political Islam,’ its threat to the nation and the ways to tackle it. He cannot see any other national party or any of the scores of regional parties which has studied the issue from a national perspective. All other parties, according to him, are vying for minority votes and turning a blind eye to the burning issue of ‘political Islam.’ Interestingly, he does not say a word about the majoritarian vote bank politics blatantly being played by the saffron party. This ‘unabashed love’ for one party exposes his real intentions and the objective behind the article.

Even when parties like Shiv Sena have opposed the ‘trinity’ of CAA-NPR-NRC, the KCBC spokesperson’sbrazen eagerness to support them smacks of opportunism. Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut quoted Martin Luther King to attack CAA. “The country where religious issues are addressed politically becomes great. But one should know the country is being run by wrong people if its politics creates religious issues,” he tweeted, quoting the American leader. Many BJP allies have also opposed the Act which is ‘violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.’ Fr Vallikkatt pretends to be more Christian than Christ in supporting the BJP.

There is a major danger in KCBC spokesperson outlining his views, in public domain, which are contrary to the stated position of the Bishops’ Council. KCBC has to clarify whether it stands by its press release or it has backtracked on it. As Fr Vallikkatt is described as the spokesperson of KCBC in his article, it is incumbent upon the Bishops’ Council to state whether it subscribes to his views or disowns it.

It is important to recall that several prelates have voiced their opposition to the CAA. They include Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI); Archbishop SoosaPakiam of Thiruvananthapuram; and Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore. It is incongruous that the spokesperson of KCBC takes a stand contrary to the general feeling and opinion of the Church in India.

This apart, homilies in many Churches during the Christmas referred to the ‘assault on the Constitution’ through the CAA. Their concern was that the new Act would lead to spreading hate and disharmony in the society. Prelates and priests exhorted on the need to maintain peace and harmony.

Threat from rising Islamic fundamentalism is a reality and it has to be condemned. There is no denying the fact that Islamic fundamentalism is posing great danger to the world. But, linking it with Citizenship Amendment Act is nothing but an effort to camouflage the issue. It will derail the real discourse and sabotage thepeople’s movements and protests.

Fr Vallikkatt had issued another press release, on behalf of KCBC, on the eve of Christmas which said: “Love that does not exclude anyone is called Jesus.” If so, what will he call a law that excludes certain sections of the society in the name of religion? In what way will he justify a law that refuses to confer citizenship on someone because he belongs to a particular religion? Where does KCBC stand in the midst of these contradictions created by its own official?

P.S. Fr Vallikkatt has now issued a statement clarifying the article published in Janmabhumi. He says the newspaper, without his permission, lifted one of his facebook posts and published it. It was meant to highlight the issue of ‘political Islam’ and he believes that the protests (against CAA), hiding the threat of ‘political Islam’, will not succeed. His clarification does not answer the contradiction in his views and the view of the KCBC on the CAA issue. It gives rise to more questions than answers.

Marydasan John