In the Kanyakumari constituency, there is unanimous praise for Pon Radhakrishnan’s performance as an MP.
But, in 2019, between victory and BJP, lies the church, backed by years of aggressive proselytising in the region.
Recently in the social media page of Malan Narayanan, a veteran Tamil journalist, another seasoned journalist from Kanyakumari district, Sindhukumar (Kumutham magazine) made a poignant but painful comment:
In the last five years almost all the roads in Kanyakumari district have been repaired. Two important flyover bridges have been constructed. Hospital services have been improved thanks to the attention of the sitting Member of Parliament - Pon Radhakrishnan (popularly called Ponnar). In the last five years there have been no communal problems in this communally sensitive district. Of all the MPs who had served this district, Pon Radhakrishnan has the maximum contribution for the overall development of the district. But the question is whether the people of the district will show gratitude to Pon Radhakrishnan for his work. There are elements in religious minorities who have been saying that to stop Modi from coming to power, Ponnar should be defeated. If the majority community follows similar stand then what would happen to minority appeasement parties? Howsoever DMK may belittle the Hindus, the Hindus in DMK would still vote for the party.
The post is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Kanyakumari district. Pon. Radhakrishnan faced a similar situation in 2004 too. But, there is a difference. Then Pon Radhakrishnan was in a way naive. He had done tremendous work for the district. He had brought the medical college to the district - a long time dream. Every member of parliament (MP) before had promised that dream and kept it that way, a dream.
He had brought a center of Sports Authority of India (SAI) to the district.
He had initiated with considerable success total sanitary coverage.
He had specially brought up schemes for the coastal communities, mostly Roman Catholic fishermen.
So, he took it for granted that he would win as any rational politician would assume.
Between 1999 to 2004, the district saw over all development. But, when election results came in, Pon Radhakrishnan was defeated.
The reason was simple.
The Roman Catholic Church as well as the Church of South India (CSI) diocese had decided that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should be defeated at all costs. Developement did not matter. The secular welfare of the district did not matter. What mattered was defeating the BJP. Remember that at that time it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was the prime minister.
Pon Radhakrishnan’s defeat was a clear message, proclaiming the power of the consolidated Christian votes.
Cut to 2014. There were multiple candidates between whom the Church and Diocese could not decide on for their support. So, the instructions were vague, though they hinted that the BJP should not be voted for.
Pon Radhakrishnan always had a solid vote bank of around three lakhs and fifty thousand votes in Kanyakumari. So, with Christian votes split, Ponnar comfortably won.
Then he worked. He worked like no other representative of the district before.
Lakshmi Mannivannan is a popuar leftist writer from the district. He had organised an 'anti-Hindutva' movement some time ago in opposition to the current BJP government at the centre. In his recent social media post, he concedes:
If you are open-minded then you have to agree that Pon Radhakrishnan has worked for the constituency with extraordinary dedication. Now he has set the bench mark. Now every elected representative would be compared with Ponnar for performance. ... The previous MP was from DMK. She rejected the flyover bridge projects as impossible and she also proved that the considerable amount of funding could be used only for the consumption of biscuits. The previous Congress MPs used to visit just the marriages and death ceremonies. They were all representatives of Christians and worked only for Christian population in the district. ...
In Kanyakumari district the Congress party is an openly pro-protestant Christian party. The educational institutions in Kanyakumari district follow a heightened policy of discrimination against Hindus. As love is part of Christian catechism they will always speak lovingly to you. But their catechism never includes non-discrimination as part of their love. So they will discriminate against Hindus. The progressives among the Christians invariably turn out to be fundamentalist Christians. I have not seen a single exception.
In this district the Christian control of power tames even the highest government officials. ... In the banks if the officials in charge of giving loans would make it a point to discourage Hindus from getting loans. ... Pon Radhakrishnan has changed that with Mudra scheme loans. In my small panchayat alone there are 472 persons who each have got Rs 2.5 lakh each as housing loans. ... This time it is tough for Pon Radhakrishnan to win. But he is the best candidate in the field for Kanyakumari district.
Soon, he would be forced to regret his outpourings by his powerful literary circles. But, what he had written had exposed for the world what was actually happening in this district - strangling of the democracy by Church.
Rahul Gandhi catered to the communal divide in the district in his own way. Quoting the Bible verse ‘Truth shall liberate you’ and torturing the Tamil language, he spoke in a rally that was conducted at the same ground of Scott Christian College where Mohan C Lazarus, the extreme Hindu-hating evangelist conducts his massive conventions. The ground is known to the district as a Christian evangelical ground. That Rahul Gandhi and the Congress chose this ground sent a clear message to the people of the district. The Congress has asked the people to choose the religion over development. It is a classical case of secularism versus the Church.
The fly-over bridges that Ponnar built stand today as a testimony to what an MP can achieve for his or her constituency if one really means to contribute to its development. Emergency medical cases in the district are usually taken to the nearby city Thiruvananthapuram. The roads with traffic jams have witnessed many such emergency cases turning into fatalities of the jam. Today, we can reach Thiruvananthapuram withing two hours. This has been made possible within five years. Almost no one believed that the fly-over bridges extending kilometres could be finished that quick. But Ponnar accomplished it. He could be seen at odd hours like late night and early morning at the work-site.
Personally, even his health suffered as a result of his work schedule. When around three hundred fishermen of the district were arrested in international waters by foreign countries, Ponnar made painstaking efforts to get them back home and succeeded. That was no small achievement.
After all these achievements, Ponnar is still struggling. Recently, a survey by a television anchor and his team (Rangaraj Pandey’s Chanakya - not to be confused with Today’s Chanakya) revealed that Ponnar enjoys a considerable lead over his rival - a businessman from neighbouring district. But the anchor was quick to add that the communal divide might still swing it.
In an interesting way the onus is on the Christian population of Kanyakumari district. The victory of Pon Radhakrishnan in this election will show the nation and the communal vested interests that Christians cannot be taken for granted as vote bank herds to be managed and sold by the Bishops of their Churches.
The Kanyakumari result will have implications for the religious harmony and future development of this district made communally sensitive by aggressive proselytisers.
This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.