In communist Kerala, minister's visit to Thrissur temple sparks off debate on religion

Kerala minister Kadakampally Surendran’s action of offering prayers at a temple in Thrissur kicked off a debate within the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the state on the issue of faith.

TK Devasia September 15, 2017 13:49:32 IST
In communist Kerala, minister's visit to Thrissur temple sparks off debate on religion

Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran’s action of offering prayers at the Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple in Thrissur district on the auspicious day of Ashtami Rohini on 12 September has kicked off a debate within the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the state on the issue of faith.

Surendran, who belongs to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was shown in television channels as performing pushpanjali (offering flowers to God) and praying with folded hands at the sacred steps during his day-long visit to the famed temple. Temple officials said he had also contributed money for annadhanam, a long-held, sacred tradition followed by the temple of offering food.

The minister has justified his action saying it was part of his duty as minister in charge of temple affairs. However, some of his fellow comrades in the ruling front have rejected his claim. They say participation in temple rituals was not part of the minister’s duty.

The comrades pointed out that fellow communist G Sudhakaran, while holding the same portfolio during 2006-11, had visited temples, but did not partake in any rituals. The then chief minister VS Achuthanandan had kept away from the sanctum sanctorum of the Sree Ayyappaswamy Temple when he visited Sabarimala in 2007 to review the preparations ahead of the pilgrimage season.

Senior leaders of the two communist parties in the LDF have viewed Surendran’s action against dialectical materialism that the communist party adheres to. Senior CPI (M) leader M V Govindan pointed out that the act of Surendran, a proclaimed atheist, was in conflict with these communist ideals.

In communist Kerala ministers visit to Thrissur temple sparks off debate on religion

Kadakampally Surendran. Image courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said he would seek an explanation from the minister. “Whatever information we have at the moment about his visit is in the form of reports in the media. We will find out the circumstances that led him to offer prayers at the temple,” he said.

The CPI (M) state secretariat and state committee meeting at the state capital on Friday is expected to discuss the issue but none expects any action against the Devaswom minister since the party itself has been deviating from its ideology not only in the matter of faith but also in the party’s economic and political policies and programmes.

Political observers view the cultural procession the CPI (M) organized under the aegis of its children’s wing – Balasangham – on the Sree Krishna Jayanthi day in Kannur district as a counter to the ‘Shobha Yatra’ organized by Balagokulam, a children’s outfit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a glaring example of this deviation.

The party secretary had justified it saying it was part of the party’s programme to create a secular platform for the children as against the RSS attempt to communalise the children. Curiously Kodiyeri himself had breached the party’s secular ideals when he allegedly allowed his wife and son to perform for him a ‘Shatrusamhaara puja’, a ritual whose objective is to neutralise an enemy, if not entirely annihilate him, at a famous temple while he held the home portfolio in the V S Achuthanandan government.

The party spared him after he dubbed the charge against him as a deliberate attempt to blacken the Red Flag in Kerala. The CPI (M) also did not raise any objection when the family members of former chief minister E.K. Nayanar, a sworn atheist, immersed his ashes in the sacred Pamba River.

There have been many instances where leaders and their families have acted as atheists in public and believers in private. Political observers view this as a dilemma haunting the communist parties after they have embraced parliamentary democracy.

N M Pearson, a left-leaning political analyst at Kochi, said that it was not possible for the revolutionary party to build cadres without compromising their basic ideology. The CPI (M) had tried to address this issue by taking a lenient view on the religious beliefs of its supporters and fellow travelers.

But the party insisted on party members and leaders to eschew all religious, caste and social practices which are alien to communist norms. The 2009 rectification document and the 2013 Palakkad plenum guidelines specifically mandated CPM workers to keep away from religious and caste organizations.

The rectification document asked party functionaries and elected representatives not to organize religious ceremonies or conduct religious rituals. The document expected the members of various party committees to uphold progressive values in their personal and social lives.

These guidelines had come when the Left had only the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) as its main rival in Kerala. The situation now has changed with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as a force to be reckoned with.

The Left, which treated BJP as an also ran party till recently, started taking it seriously after the saffron party increased its vote share in the Assembly election from 6 percent in 2011 to 14 percent in 2016 and emerged as the main opposition in the Thiruvananthapuram city corporation.

Pearson told Firstpost that CPI (M) was trying to appease the Hindu community after the BJP started uniting the majority community. The CPI (M) was jolted when the BJP forged an alliance with the political outfit of the Ezhava community, whose members formed the backbone of the communist movement in the state. Ezhavas are the numerically largest Hindu community in Kerala.

“The party fears that this consolidation on communal lines would lead to a major exodus of its supporters to the Sangh Parivar. The party has been organizing Hindu festivals like Sree Krishna Jayanthi to stem this flow,” he said.

Interestingly, Sree Naryana Guru, the spiritual leader of the Ezhava community, figured prominently in the cultural processions organized by the CPI (M) on the occasion of the Sree Krishna Jayanthi.

Pearson does not think that this will help the communist parties in the long run. A large number of people have been voting for them because of their secular credentials, Pearson said, adding that if the CPI (M) sacrifices its core ideology for few votes it will sound the death knell to the communist movement in Kerala.

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