THIRUVANATHAPURAM: The CPI (M) in Kerala which is just one seat short of pulling down the Congress led UDF government in Kerala has suddenly found Jesus Christ a useful symbol to play up as the state moves towards a crucial bypoll which could decide the fate of the government.
As part of an exhibition during its state conference meeting in Thriuvanathapuram, two paintings of Christ were displayed, one the crucified Christ and the other a crass flex board painting of the Last Supper to show the end of capitalism. Pictures of Obama and other leaders were morphed into the Last Supper painting. Various Christian organisations have attacked what they call an undignified appropriation of Jesus Christ and imageries and symbols associated with him.
While CPI (M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said that this is not a major issue and tried to diffuse a situation that seems to be getting out of hand (nothing unusual in Kerala), the former chief minister, Mr VS Achuthanandan said that Jesus Christ was a revolutionary and the Church does not want to accept that.
It was Chief Minister, Mr Oomen Chandy who first took offence to a crucified picture of Jesus Christ in what he called a “derogatory manner”. The KPCC president, Mr Ramesh Chennitalla followed suit saying ,”The CPM has portrayed Jesus in a repulsive manner in The Last Supper.” The phalanx of Catholic and other religious organisations— which is always waiting to bite into some controversy or other— say that the CPM is trying to use the imagery of Jesus for political purposes.
“If the communist party does not back out of its anti-Christian campaigns, the Church will launch an agitation,” said Bishop Joseph Karikkassery. The archbishop of Trivandrum M Soosai Pakiam has also jumped into the fray saying the faithful will not tolerate such acts.
“There is nothing wrong in criticising capitalism and dreaming of its end. The Last Supper does not symbolise the end of capitalism. In fact it is the beginning of the Church. Those who have drawn the picture has no sense of history,” said Father Paul Thelakkatt, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church. Any reason is big enough to spew venom in public in Kerala and now it’s the unlikely figure of Christ which is the focal point of this public battle. The reason why all this is a flash point is because the government survives on a wafer thin majority of one vote.
The death of a UDF minister TM Jacob has necessitated a bypoll which is yet to be announced. The CPM feels rightly that the government will collapse if they lose the bypoll and is trying to up the political temperature.
There has been an interplay of Christ and Marx in the history of the Church in the 80s and 90s when the leftist liberation theology gathered wind inside the church and many priests in Latin America and also in Kerala said that the teachings of Marx should also be used by the church in its attempt to fight poverty. At one stage it looked like Marxists priest would gain support across the Catholic church since most of such priests including in India worked among the deprived classes. But the present pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger moved swiftly to curb any such Marxian ambitions among its young priests. Some priests were removed. Many priests in Kerala too propounded Marx teachings. One such priest headed the fishermen’s union for many years in Kerala.
Now again, in a replay of irony, Christ and Marx have come together again to create a controversy in Kerala. For many religious organisations it is not just the last supper but a good political meal.