Orthodox priests meeting a Catholic priest and offering solidarity emphasizes the contours of solidarity in the narco jihad issue, which always followed a clear and unnoticed path. It pitted the Christian and Christian-allied community of the Kottayam-Idukki mountainside belt against a bunch of pan-Kerala intellectuals and leaders.
When you are drawn too much into the grand narrative of Hindutva vs Secularism, you tend to see every mention of Arabic words as a negative reference to Muslims. You do not notice that not everyone in the world believes in your grand narrative, especially not in the minority-heavy mountainsides. The mountainsides of south-central Kerala are dominated by Christian politics, and Hindutva has no opening there, apart from a discontented Nair-Ezhava business class and their affiliate organs. BJP actually has negligible support among Christians.
One of the more relevant grand narratives of the mountainsides is the day to day encounters between Christians and Muslims. Erattupetta, quite close to Pala, especially is known to be a place with Salafi and Islamist influence among ordinary Muslims. That’s why an actual protest happened on ground against the Pala Bishop – something that is not possible against a Mujahid Balussery, MM Akbar, Shamsuddin Palath, Sathar Panthaloor (for his comment against missionary Christianity) or Rahmathullah Qasimi (for his demonization of Jews) or even against Vellapalli Natesan mainly due to demographic constraints.
The awareness against global Islamism is a defensive strategy of these mountainside Christians against that growing influence of Islamism. That’s why Mar Joseph Kallarangatt spoke about global Islamist strategy to his believers, and framed it as an attack on the Holy Family of the Catholics.
When a theologian speaks to his believers, it must be read in the context of their theology. What the Bishop said contained no call to arms, no bay for blood, no hate towards other communities. It was a theologically framed warning about the effect of Islamists on Christians, deduced from real examples of Christians elsewhere in the world who came into contact with Islamists.
Who understood this? Only the Christians and Christian-allied communities of the mountainside. That’s why the Pala Youth Congress, Jose K Mani, Mani C Kappan, VN Vasavan, local Catholic and Orthodox priests all supported the Pala Bishop; and that’s why Congress, Left, Catholic, Orthodox leaders elsewhere tended to be against the Bishop. The division between the camps was regional, not political. The only exceptions to this was the BJP, who were simply trying to capitalise on the mention of Jihad, and the quite significant demography of anti-Church Christian thinkers.
And that’s why intellectuals who framed it as the Church’s capitulation to Hindutva could not understand what’s going on. These are not things you learn from The Hindu or The Indian Express. You just have to touch the life of a community to understand it.