Thiruvananthapuram: The battle for Hindu votes in Kerala has intensified with major political parties pitting ‘forgotten’ renaissance leaders against Hindu gods and god men that the Sangh Parivar uses to make political inroads into the southern Indian state, which is known for its secular traditions.
The two ruling communist parties and the opposition Congress have selected highly revered renaissance icons like Chattambi Swamikal, Ayyankali and Sree Narayana Guru to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that shocked them by garnering about 16 percent of votes in the Assembly elections on 16 May.
While the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, and its main ally, the Communist Party of India (CPI), have already evolved a movement against communal forces based on the messages of these renaissance icons, the Congress is still working on its strategy.
The CPM and the CPI kicked off the movement on the Sree Krishna Jayanthi day on Wednesday by celebrating the birth anniversary of Chattambi Swamikal, who had strove hard to reform the late 19th century ritualistic and caste-ridden Hindu society.
Though the birth day of the Swamikal falls on 25 September, the CPM and the CPI celebrated the anniversary a day before by organising various programmes, including children’s processions. The Congress confined its programmes to the state capital and some select centres.
The programme was advanced apparently to wean away children participating in the Shobha Yatras being organised by Sangh Parivar under the aegis of their children’s outfit, Balagokulam. The main focus of the programme was Kannur district, where rival parties are engaged in a physical battle for political supremacy.
The CPM organized processions in 206 centres and the BJP in 300 centres in the district. Members of feeder organisations of both the parties and senior leaders had entered the field to make the programme a show of strength. They sought to rally children by distributing sweets and staging cultural programmes.
The organisers of the processions kept the police on their feet in the district, which is still reeling under the post-poll clashes, by vying each other in attracting the children. The police had deployed additional forces throughout the politically volatile district to ensure that the different processions did not overlap and create law and order issues.
The CPM, which had opposed the Shobha Yatra in the past saying it amounted to torturing the tiny tots, joined the bandwagon last year after it found that the BJP was using it to lure the children into its fold. The party had organised the processions in 2015 in Kannur district under the guise of the week-long celebrations on the occasion of the harvest festival of Onam.
The CPM shed the pretensions and extended the programme throughout the state this year as a campaign against communalism in the wake of the sudden rise in the BJP votes. The programme named ‘Nammulonnu’ (we are one) will continue till the birth anniversary of Ayyankali on 28 August.
CPI Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan said that the programme was not aimed at countering the BJP-sponsored Sree Krishna Jayanthi celebrations but to instil the secular values in the minds of the children.
“Secular forces cannot remain a mute spectator when efforts are being made to divide the society on the basis of religion and castes. As a party upholding secularism, we are trying to counter the communal forces by spreading the messages of the social reformers,” he said.
Jayarajan said that the party had also drawn up elaborate programme to celebrate the birth anniversary of Narayana Guru on 16 September. The main highlight of the campaign will be commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Guru’s proclamation “We have no caste”. The party will be spreading the message during a week-long programme across the state.
The CPI has also chalked out a six-day programme from 20 September to highlight the messages of Narayana Guru, who’s legacy has already been ‘hijacked’ by the BJP by forging an alliance with Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), political outfit of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, which was founded by Guru based on his “one religion, one caste and one god” philosophy.
Even though the alliance did not affect the LDF in the last Assembly polls as many feared it would, the CPM as well as its allies fear that the BJP’s bid to consolidate the Hindu votes by attracting more Hindu organisations into its fold will lead to erosion in their support base in future.
They also feel that the weakening of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the wake of the exit of Kerala Congress (M) and the growing disenchantment among its other allies may help the BJP to grow further in the state. This, the LDF fears, could hasten the flight of their cadres to the BJP.
The communist parties have turned to renaissance leaders to stem the flow as they have limitations in directly reaching out to believers due to their atheistic moorings. Though the CPM has relaxed norms and allowed comrades to associate with religious events, the party has been witnessing a steady flight of cadres to the Sangh Parivar.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has alleged deliberate attempts by rival parties to distance the Left parties from believers. Referring to the recent controversy over his suggestion for throwing open the Sabarimala hill shrine to devotees throughout the year, he said that the party’s political opponents were using the atheistic ideology followed by the party to scare the believers.
“Our political rivals, who did not want the party to grow in the country, had unleashed campaign that the communists will demolish places of worship if they come to power. We have survived it as people belonging to different faiths had realized this as a false propaganda and placed their hope and faith on out party,” he said.
In a Facebook post, the Chief Minister said that the LDF government was trying to improve facilities for Ayyappa devotees at Sabarimala and help Haj pilgrims to undertake a hassle-free pilgrimage as it viewed all human beings as one irrespective of religion and caste barriers.
BJP state president Kummanam Rajashekharan has welcomed the CPM concern towards the believers. Rajashekharan said that it would be good for the people in the state if it marks a transformation from Marxism to Mahirshi.