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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
08CHENNAI21
2008-01-17 11:24:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Consulate Chennai
Cable title:  

FIGHT WITH CHRISTIAN GROUPS FURTHER WEAKENS KERALA

Tags:   PGOV  KIRF  IN 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXYZ0002
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHCG #0021/01 0171124
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171124Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL CHENNAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1425
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2928
RUEHCG/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
						UNCLAS CHENNAI 000021 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KIRF IN
SUBJECT: FIGHT WITH CHRISTIAN GROUPS FURTHER WEAKENS KERALA
LEFTISTS

REF: 07 CHENNAI 602

UNCLAS CHENNAI 000021

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KIRF IN
SUBJECT: FIGHT WITH CHRISTIAN GROUPS FURTHER WEAKENS KERALA
LEFTISTS

REF: 07 CHENNAI 602


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Leftist political leaders have been engaged in a
months-long war of words with Syrian Christian leaders in the South
Indian state Kerala. The Syrian Christians' anger at government
proposals that would reduce their church's autonomy to manage its
schools has pushed them into direct conflict with the ruling leftist
coalition. Although the state's diverse Christian community is
unlikely to uniformly accept the bishops' exhortations on politics,
the confrontation has certainly contributed the ruling leftist
coalition's mounting political woes. END SUMMARY.

CHRISTIANS AN INFLUENTIAL AND DIVERSE MINORITY
-------------- -


2. (SBU) Kerala has one of the highest proportions of Christians in
India: nineteen percent of Kerala's thirty-two million people are
Christian. Kerala has three major Christian communities, each with
its roots in a different era of religious conversion. The oldest
traces its origins to first century AD churches established by St.
Thomas, the second to conversions by Portuguese missionaries during
the sixteenth century, and the third to conversions during the
British period. The oldest of the three groups, known as "Syrian
Christians," wields much economic and political clout and runs a
large number of educational institutions in the state. The later
groups are largely made up for former members of the backward castes
and thus benefit from the state's affirmative action policies.
Together, Christians constitute a major swing vote in Kerala, a
state known for its tendency to alternate between Congress and
Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led coalitions.

COMMUNISTS THREATEN CONTROL OVER CHURCH SCHOOLS
-------------- --


3. (SBU) The Syrian Christians, who control a large number of
schools, feel most threatened by the Left Democratic Front (LDF)
government, which is led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
(CPI(M)). Since the LDF came to power in 2006, the government and
the Syrian Christians have clashed over the issue of schools.
First, the government sought to bring private professional colleges
under state control. This evoked sharp criticism from the Church,
which in turn prompted the CPI(M)'s student wing to stage violent

protests at some of the colleges. The conflict subsided only after
a court struck down the contentious provisions of the government's
legislation.


4. (SBU) After being forced to abandon its attempt to take control
of the colleges, the LDF government continued to antagonize
religious schools. Newspapers reported that the government planned
to assert the right to appoint teachers in "aided schools" --
private schools (including many church schools) where the government
pays teachers' salaries. In justifying the move, government
officials pointed out that these appointments are the source of
considerable corruption with school management requiring prospective
teachers to pay bribes to secure positions. The private schools
responded by saying the government move was simply a punitive
measure meant to curtail churches' long held privilege to appoint
teachers. Tempers flared with a Syrian Christian Cardinal
reportedly saying the Church would not allow the "drunkards and
atheists" appointed by the leftist government to teach in its
schools. The State Education Minister retorted by noting that even
liquor shops are subject to more regulation than religious schools.


5. (SBU) Kerala's aggressive media fueled the fight by playing up a
rather picayune dispute between the CPI(M) and the Church. When the
Syrian Christian Bishop of Thiruvambady claimed that a leftist
leader had received "the sacrament" on his deathbed, communist
luminaries took umbrage. CPI(M) State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan
publicly denounced the bishop, calling him a "wretched creature."
Christians, in turn, took to the streets in Thiruvambady. More than
30,000 people turned out in protest, closing down schools and
hospitals throughout the district.

CHRISTIANS REACH OUT TO OTHER
DENOMINATIONS, HINDUS FOR SUPPORT
--------------


6. (SBU) The Syrian Christians have allied with a major Hindu
organization, the Nair Service Society, in the battle to retain
autonomy over religious schools. Other Christian denominations have
also expressed solidarity with the Syrian Christians because all of
them own schools and colleges, and thus have a common interest in
maintaining their control.


7. (SBU) A Syrian Christian journalist told post that the Church has
succeeded in moving the dispute into the media. But, he said, the
Church does not have the clout it had fifty years ago when it could
force a change in government. The journalist said poorer sections of
the Christian community are not swayed by the Bishops' pastoral

letters urging believers to stay away from the Communist parties.
He also pointed out that Hindu-Christian solidarity exists at the
leadership level, but does not percolate down to the rank and file.
Nonetheless, with Kerala's political scene carefully balanced
between two equally powerful coalitions -- one led by the CPI(M) and
the other by the Congress party -- a minor swing in popular
sentiment (such as the one generated in the fight over control of
Christian schools) could have an impact in elections. Despite the
Syrian Christian Church's diminished power, the journalist believes
that the CPI(M) is vulnerable, having lost much of its popularity
after sweeping the 2006 elections to the state assembly.

SPAT WITH CHURCH PART OF CPI(M) INFIGHTING;
ANOTHER SIGN OF LEFT'S POTENTIAL ELECTORAL CHALLENGES
-------------- --------------


8. (SBU) COMMENT: The fight between the CPI(M) and the Christians is
actually driven by the party's ongoing internal elections in which
there is a bitter power struggle between Chief Minister
Achuthanandan and State Secretary Vijayan (reftel). Vijayan, as
State Secretary, controls the party machinery; Achuthanandan, as
Chief Minister, controls the government. Vijayan, a reform-minded
CPI(M) leader who is seen by many in the party as ideologically
suspect, is clearly beating up on the establishment church in an
attempt to shore up his reputation as a "true communist." But by
picking a fight with the still influential Syrian Christians, and by
extension other Christian denominations as well as Hindus, Vijayan
has further weakened an already troubled Kerala CPI(M)'s prospects
in the event of early parliamentary elections. END COMMENT.

HOPPER