Letter to Bishop KP Yohannan : Give us this day our daily bread

img1 A. J. Philip
30 Nov 2020

Dear Bishop KP Yohannan,

I heard you the other day mentioning in a video message the name of the late Iraneous Thirumeni. You should have remembered that he had adopted the name of Joseph Mar Thoma when he became the 21st Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. Incidentally, Malayala Manorama listed him as the ninth Metropolitan of the church!

I would not blame you because for many people, including  Marthomites, he was still Iraneous episcopa. I know you have adopted a long name, when you promoted yourself to the post of Metropolitan, but you are in popular mind still KP Yohannan. That is why I address you as Bishop KP Yohannan. I hope you will appreciate.

After all, as Shakespeare asked, “What's in a name?/ That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” To paraphrase the bard’s lines, That whom we call KP Yohannan would by any other name like Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan Metropolitan would remain as great.

Why I write this letter to you is because I feel saddened by the kind of scurrilous reports and video messages that have appeared, especially in the social media, since the Income Tax department conducted raids on your establishments at many places in the country.

Let me also mention that I have been an admirer of you for many years.

You first came into my life when my father bought a Murphy radio receiver for Rs 390 on my persistent pleading. My choice was Phillips but it was priced at Rs 425. For a person buying the radio on instalment basis, the difference of Rs 35 was a big amount. My father also had to pay another Rs 15 as the yearly radio licence fee!

It was around that time that you started broadcasting your sermons through radio. In India, religious broadcasting was not possible those days. So you found a good via medium — a Ceylonese broadcasting station. 

Broadcast in short wave, unlike the Thiruvanthapuram and Kozhikode stations which broadcast in medium wave, it had greater reach. Thus, the sermons you made at Thiruvalla could be heard at Pathanamthitta in Kerala as it could be at Pathankot in Punjab. 

Please do not think that I was so spiritual as to hear you at that time. I was more interested in AK Gopalan and BT Ranadive, not to mention Che Guevara. I enjoyed tuning into newer and newer stations everyday, including English broadcasts from Peking and Malayalam broadcasts from the Vatican.

However, Ceylon radio was my favourite because everyday in the evening, it would broadcast four Malayalam film songs. When I switched on your sermon, my mother would ask me to raise the volume so that she could hear it from the kitchen. The title of your programme Aatmeeya Yatra (Spiritual Journey) was indeed ear-pleasing.

She was not like the modern mother, who would sit before the idiot box and watch all the silly serials before asking her husband to bring a packet of cooked Corona-full food from a cart-turned-kitchen-turned-restaurant. My mother always complained that she had only 24 hours to finish her work. If, despite her busy schedule, she liked your sermon, it was a measure of your skill as a popular broadcaster.

I remember your sermons, which were heart-touching and which ended with appeals to your listeners to send the names of people who needed special prayers. People who suffered from diseases like cancer or did not have money to marry off their daughters or were in deep debt sent their names to you for prayers.

I remember you claiming that you had full-time prayer warriors who would unlock the gates of heaven with their unending prayers. Anyway, I was never convinced about your prayer service. 

If you were sure that your prayers could cure patients of their illnesses, you would surely not have wasted money on building a medical college to treat them.

On the subject of hospital, let me mention that thanks to your Delhi bishop and your son-in-law and head of the hospital, I got the best care when I was admitted there for a few days a few years ago. I can vouchsafe that the hospital services were very good and affordable.

I have a friend’s son serving in the hospital as a doctor. He told me that you paid the doctors well and that is why he shifted to your hospital from a more famous hospital.

Recently, I heard you claiming that you did not pay any black money to the doctors or other staff. I have reason to believe so. You also claimed that whenever you bought land, you showed the full amount in the registration papers. Again, I can vouchsafe that you were a good buyer of land.

In fact, the owners of the paddy field are happy that you bought the land to construct the medical college hospital at Thiruvalla. Questions have been raised about how you raised money for the hospital.

The same questions are valid about the Amritanandamayi hospital and the Satya Sai Baba multi-speciality hospital, all of which came up with foreign money. There is, however, a difference between your hospital and their hospitals. I will come to that in an instant.

People say that you were just a duck farmer before you took up the spiritual business. The same can be said about many in India. Was Mukesh Ambani’s father a rich man before he went to Yemen? Was Baba Ramdev a rich, educated man before masquerading as a yoga expert? Today, you are nowhere near the Baba.

When the Baba wanted to start a noodle factory, Maggi’s Two-Minute Noodles were found unhealthy and banned. This is how the state supports such characters. The hugging mother attracts leaders like Modi, while you have to seek the help of PJ Kurian to meet Modi. What a thoughtless action it was to give him a cheque for Rs 1 crore to clean the Ganga. The Ganga, for your information, does not need any cleaning. Stop dumping waste into the river and the Ganga would be as pure as in Nehru’s description of the river in his will and testament.

Soon after the tsunami hit the southern cost, a friend and theologian in Oxford told me that you received Rs 1200 crore from abroad to help the affected people. To be frank, I did not believe him.

I wondered whether the white people were as foolish as to give you so much money. I was proved wrong when I heard that you bought a sprawling estate worth hundreds of crores of rupees. I could make out the link between the estate and the tsunami.

You, perhaps, thought that it was your corpus fund and that the estate would stand you in good stead if your church reached a dead end. I was amazed at the kind of growth your church had. I had an occasion to visit your Delhi diocese office, which was swanky and well-appointed, compared to the Mar Thoma Diocesan office in the same city.

I was saddened when I saw some of your churches in Kandhamal district in Odisha which were destroyed either partially or fully. What surprised me was how a church could grow so fast. I remember seeing an advertisement in which your Delhi Diocese sought applications for various posts in several schools being planned to be set up.

I know how difficult it is to set up a school. I have heard some commentators claiming that you were doing nothing by way of social work. I personally visited a correctional home you run at Dwarka, virtually a sub-city in Delhi.

I visited Asha Grih in the wake of the Nirbhaya case. In the gang rape case that shocked the nation, the worst offender was allegedly a teenaged boy. He came to Delhi at age 11 and grew up in the company of criminals.

The inmates of your home — over 40 — were all boys who could have become criminals like the boy who killed Nirbhaya. I spent time with them only to realise that they were all nice children. Saving them from the streets was a great service you were doing to the nation. I wrote a column on the project at that time.

I would be the last person to condemn anyone for I believe that nobody is beyond redemption. Nonetheless, you should realise that you have done a great disservice to the whole NGO sector. It did not show you in a good light when the income tax authorities found over Rs 16 crore in cash on your premises, including the dickey of a car parked in the basement of the hospital building.

I heard your justification that the government had frozen your accounts and the money was actually to pay the staff their salaries. You have to function within the system and if the system did not allow you to function, then you should have gone to the court and challenged it there.

You also say that if the money was deposited in the bank, 30 per cent would have gone as tax. Now, my question is, how do you get so much money? I know that the hospital could not have been yielding you so much profit. Nor could your educational institutions have, whatever may be the fees that you charge.

I remember someone close to you contacting me with a strange request. He wanted me to stop the publication of a report about your church in the Hindustan Times in Delhi. I was stunned. How could I stop a report when my job has been to publish reports?

In any case, I had left the HT many years earlier. I was curious. How did your man know in advance that a report about the church would appear in the paper. Your person was right. The story appeared on the day it was to appear. It was a story filed by a stringer in Canada.

Your man came to know about the impending report when the stringer contacted you for your comments. The story was about how you diverted a large sum of money meant for some projects in Kerala to another country. Do you know that money is a dangerous thing particularly when you have excess of it? That is why I say the Lord’s Prayer everyday.

In Delhi, we had a home worker from Bengal. She was a very nice person. Nice in the sense that she was hardworking and honest to the core. Leave a thousand rupees on the floor, she will pick it up and give it to you.

She had a daughter whom she would bring home once in a while. Then we heard that she had become a nurse-cum-nun in your church in Kerala. Her mother was happy that she had found a vocation. While I was admitted to your hospital, I saw a group of girls wearing Missionaries of Charity-like uniform and I looked for my acquaintance among them. She was not there. Recently, I was told that she is back in Delhi and is no longer getting any support from your church.

Once, I had a driver who belonged to your church in Delhi. This disproves the propaganda that your church does not have any members. In fact, I have reason to believe that your church is larger in terms of members than the Mar Thoma Church of which you were once a member.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between your church and the MT Church. While the latter is run with the money contributed by its own members, you have to pay for everything from the upkeep of your churches to the payment of salaries to the clergy and even the laity.

The Bible tells the story of how a mansion was built without an adequate foundation and how it was swept off by the wind. I wish you had been more careful and had functioned within the limits of the laws of the land, even if you were just called Dr Yohannan or Pastor Yohannan, and not Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan Metropolitan!

Yours etc

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