April 21: The partners in Kerala's ruling Left Front are at loggerheads over the removal of a giant cross planted by a Christian prayer group on a vast patch of encroached government land.
CPI leaders today questioned chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's statement that he had no idea about the crackdown in the hill resort of Munnar amid claims by district authorities that they had kept the home department, headed by him, informed about the action.
After a meeting of the ruling Left Democratic Front today, CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran said the cross didn't belong to any Christian mission but had been illegally installed by the prayer group. "None of the Christian missions have objected to the eviction," he said, citing the reactions of mission heads who were unanimous in their approval of clearing any encroachments made in the name of religion.
The only objection raised by some Church leaders related to the manner in which the 20-feet cross was brought down with the help of an excavator.
The head of the Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Mar George Alanchery, said there was no objection to removing a religious symbol on encroached land. "Our mission is not against removing any encroachment. But the manner in which it was removed caused mental agony and I think that explains the chief minister's objections." Vijayan had said yesterday that the officials "should have been more careful" in the action.
Kerala Catholic Bishops Council president Bishop K. Soosa Pakiam also said the officials could have shown some respect by not using an excavator. "The government has every right to clear any encroachment. They could have removed the holy symbol with some respect as the cross is loved and worshipped by every Christian."
Spirit in Jesus, the prayer group which had placed the steel cross, had said yesterday that worshippers had been praying at the spot for decades.
"There is no doubt that the prayer group was trying to grab government land under the cover of installing a cross and convert it into a pilgrimage spot," said CPI assistant secretary K. Prakash Babu.
CPM veteran and former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan described the action as "purely legal". "Encroachment in whatever form, even if it's a cross, must be cleared," the nonagenarian said.
While state Congress chief M.M. Hassan had welcomed the removal yesterday, his party changed tack today by seeking an explanation from the government on the "manner in which the cross was demolished".