Kottayam | A political battle has erupted between the ruling CPI(M) and the opposition Congress in Kerala amid a clamour from the public seeking sainthood status for former state Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who died last month after battling cancer.
The Congress veteran, who became the state's chief minister twice, was buried in his local parish church near here.
Ever since, people from all walks of life have been flocking to his tomb, and a section of faithfuls and party workers have demanded that the late Congress stalwart be accorded the status of sainthood.
However, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, to which Chandy belonged, does not have a history or practice of awarding sainthood to laymen, unlike the Catholic Church -- which has canonised several persons including Mother Teresa.
Chandy had died in a hospital in Bengaluru on July 18 and was buried as a commoner at the St George Church in his home village, Puthuppally, after a two-day-long massive funeral procession attended by thousands who paid homage to the leader.
Within a few days, the specially-erected tomb where the graves of former top priests are situated turned into a place for intercessory prayers. A section of the faithful started placing written requests in large numbers there.
The people thronging his burial place seek his mediation with God to fulfil their dreams and requests, as till the end of his decades-old political life
Chandy had been known for living a life closely connected with commoners and giving priority to fulfilling their demands for shelter, treatment, etc.
Ordinary people have been visiting Chandy's grave just like they visit pilgrim centres and offer prayers there after lighting candles.
Amid this growing clamour for according Chandy sainthood, the issue gathered political colour on Tuesday as CPI(M) leader and party state committee member K Anilkumar came up with a request not to make the ex-CM a "myth".
In an open letter to Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly V D Satheesan, the Left leader said Chandy was not a myth but a reality till July 18.
He said in the letter that he suspected that Congress's political agenda was behind the demand to make Chandy a saint, eyeing the upcoming Puthuppally bypoll which is scheduled for September 5.
He charged the grand-old party of trying to canonise Chandy as part of its plans to conveniently use religious imagery in electoral politics.
"Oommen Chandy was not a saint till July 18...nor was he a myth. Chandy was the reality that we have seen and experienced," he said.
The ruling CPI (M) leader also pointed out that the Communists had experienced the ferocity of Chandy on several occasions during their straight political battles with him.
He also accused Satheesan of launching the discussions regarding sainthood status for the first time while participating in Chandy's condolence meeting organised by the Ernakulam District Congress Committee recently.
Satheesan, while talking to reporters here, mocked Anilkumar, saying even the memories of Chandy were disturbing the CPI(M).
He alleged that the Marxist party had "hunted" Chandy and made him go through several trials when he was alive. Several cases had been filed against him by the ruling party and its government, which tried to crucify him over various issues, he claimed.
"The present controversy shows that they (CPI-M) are still scared of Chandy even after his death," he further said.
Meanwhile, the discussions on sainthood status have blown up so much that many even claimed that the recent stay of Rahul Gandhi's conviction by the Supreme Court in the 'Modi' surname case came because he had visited Chandy's grave and offered prayers there.
In a viral social media post, a person even posted a testimony in this regard, further fuelling the discussions. The recent claim of a woman that she had won a lottery after visiting the tomb three times was among such similar assertions.
Sensing brisk business prospects, many tour operators and travel agents have already launched special packages to visit Chandy's grave at Puthuppally Church.
A tour operator based in Attingal, Thiruvananthapuram, said they have been receiving good feedback from people about the package.
Social media platforms are also abuzz with people supporting and objecting to the discussions on the sainthood demand.