Will withdraw only cake-and-wine-remark, not stance on Manipur: Saji Cherian

Saji Cherian
Minister for Fisheries, Culture & Youth Affairs Saji Cherian. Photo: Manorama

Kochi: Kerala Cultural Affairs Minister Saji Cherian on Tuesday refused to withdraw his statement criticising Christian priests for their alleged silence on the issue of Manipur violence during the Christmas programme organised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"I will not change my political stance. Minorities are being increasingly targeted in this country. The lunch with the Prime Minister was an opportune moment for Christian leaders to raise the Manipur issue," he said.

The Minister however, withdrew his cake-and-wine remark that 'some bishops were thrilled when the BJP invited them for a feast and they forgot the Manipur issue when they had grape juice and cake'.

The minister, who is in Kochi for the state government’s Nava Kerala Sadas event, expressed regret over his choice of words against the top priests in a hurriedly called press conference. He had come prepared with some statistics of the attacks on Christians to cement the political position he tried to convey in his controversial speech.

Quoting a data from the United Christian Forum, he said Christians in the country had to face 700 communal attacks in the past one year, with 287 of them in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.

“The number of attacks on Christians was 140 in 2014. In the nine years of BJP rule, it increased sharply. In the international scenario, India is ranked 11th in the attacks on Christians,” Cherian said.

“Those who love the minority communities have an obligation to protect them. I raised my criticism as I felt the stance taken against the BJP’s approach towards minorities was not enough. Those who participated in the prime minister’s Christmas lunch could have requested him to intervene in the Manipur issue and address their concerns in an amicable manner. I stand firm on that political stance,” he said.

Asked if he would have to withdraw the criticism also if the priests feel hurt over it, Cherian’s reply was firm: “I should lose my head if I have to withdraw it”.

Responding to Opposition Leader V D Satheesan’s criticism of Cherian’s choice of words, the minister challenged the Congress leader to make clear the stance of his party’s state unit on Manipur.

Saji Cherian had said that the bishops who went to the banquet did not talk about Manipur and it was not an issue for them, while inaugurating the CPM local committee office in Alappuzha Punnapra North. 

Following this, Archbishop and Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) president Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis on Tuesday stated that the Church will not cooperate with State government on any matter until the Minister withdrew his remarks and offered an explanation. Reacting to the controversy, CPM State Secretary M V Govindan had said that he will examine the Church's resentment and take necessary steps to resolve it.

Commenting on minister Cheriyan's controversial comment, National General Secretary of Indian Union Muslim League P K Kunhalikutty said political leaders must be careful while speaking about religious leaders. "Political leaders may not agree with religios leaders all the time. But that does not mean that they can insult them," he told mediapersons in Kozhikode.

"He should not have made a comment that hurt their (religious leaders) sentiments," he said. During an interaction with the members of the Christian community at his residence on Christmas, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had heaped praise on the minority community for its role in the freedom movement and in various fields like healthcare and education, and said the country proudly acknowledges its contribution.  

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