In what looks like an attempt on the side of the agitators to draw down tensions, Fr Thedocious D'Cruz who had on November 29 called fisheries minister V Abdurahiman the "biggest anti-national the world has ever seen" has retracted his words. "It was just a slip of the tongue, born out of a sudden emotional distress on hearing the minister's words" said Fr Theodocious, the convenor of the anti-port action council, said in a press release on Wednesday.
He said he regretted that his comments had caused divisions among the minority communities when the need of the hour was for them to stand united.
The Latin priest's outburst on November 29 was a reaction to the fisheries minister's comment that any attempt to block a state's development was anti-national activity.
Abdurahiman had also questioned the motive of the Latin Church-led agitation. "To ask a government to conduct a study by stopping construction, even if it is only for a week, is not a protest. It is something else," the minister had said during the Vizhinjam International Seaport Expert Summit held in Thiruvananthapuram on November 29.
Abdurahiman had termed the agitation "unexpected". "Can any government allow this when more than half the work is complete," he had said.
It was in retaliation that Fr Theodocious went public against Abdurahiman. But there was a general feeling, even among the protesters, that he was reckless, that his anger was soaked in communal hatred. "There is a terrorist in his name," Fr Theodocious had said.
The anti-port protesters Onmanorama talked to said Fr Theodocious was not the kind who would back down from his position. "But our leaders felt that such comments will be used by the government and others to further isolate us. Many people have already pounced on this to label us communal. Already, lies are being spread to discredit our agitation," one of the leaders of the agitation said.
The protesters said Fr Theodocious's anger was directed more at ports minister Ahammad Devarkovil than Abdurahiman. Two days earlier Devarkovil had commented that the anti-port agitators had singled out the houses of a particular community for attack, a remark widely seen as having the potential to spark a communal clash in the area. Devarkovilhas not yet apologised.
Fr Theodocious, even while retorting that Abdurahiman was the biggest anti-national of them all, had given his own definition of anti-national. "An anti-national is someone who doesn't know how to properly unfurl the national flag," he had said.
Many feel this was a reference to Devarkovil who in January this year was accused of saluting the national flag turned upside down.
Fr Theodocious retraction and the sudden tone of conciliation seem mutual. Government sources said ministers have also been asked to observe restraint, to desist from provoking the coastal community further. This was one of the reasons why many of the ministers kept away from the Expert Summit organised by the government on November 29 to remove misgivings about the project.