The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) in Kerala has had many reasons to worry for a while now. The traditional Marxist party has seen many setbacks in the recent past and it has faced a deluge of criticism for the wrong moves it has been making. For one, the strikes and the protests it has organised have not met with desired success.
Furthermore, the party received a blow in the recently concluded Aruvikkara by election, where its position was further threatened, albeit marginally, by the emergence of the BJP. The CPM’s plans to uplift the party in such turbulent times seem to be backfiring. A recent example being the ‘secular procession’ that the party took out on 5 September. According to party leaders, the procession was taken out to mark the end of Onam celebrations for Balasangam, the largest children’s organisation in India linked to the CPM. The procession, which was taken out on the same day as Janmashtami, has stirred up a controversy.
Though the CPM leadership initially tried to wash its hands off the issue when it came under criticism, it later clarified that it was the children’s wing of the party which organised the procession. Later senior CPM leader and Balasangam patron M Prakashan Master termed the programme a great success.
Interestingly, apart from Kannur, the rest of Kerala has not seen any such procession. On 5 September, the BJP and the CPM took out close to 185 rallies with/ for children in various parts of Kannur district and according to police sources, the processions by the two parties were quite peaceful.
Everyone was shocked to find the CPM organising such processions on Janmashtami day given the fact that the party itself has been very critical of similar practices in the past.
Critics termed it as the party’s efforts to stop its supporters and workers from joining the BJP. According to a report published in Malayala Manorama daily in July, the CPM admitted that they have lost around 25,000 members of the party and many of them might have joined the BJP.
This was the first time that the CPM organised such a procession under the banner of Balasangam and the leadership’s claim that it has got nothing to do with it has found no takers. While Onam festivities in the state ended a week earlier, the CPM’s intention this time was to drive home the point that celebrations during any festival are not a sole prerogative of the RSS.
Of late, the CPM has become a bit ‘liberal’ on religious matters as it believes that rigidity on any issue would only worsen the situation further. Last year, the district committee allowed its activists and sympathizers to read the Ramayana at agitation venues during Karkidaka; an auspicious month in the Malayalam calendar. They have even revived humanitarian activities like palliative care and also launched a movement of organic farming across the state.
When asked about the party offering a ‘secular platform’ to celebrate religious events, a senior CPM leader on condition of anonymity said that the party has no aversion towards any religion, it is only against communalism, which is making an inroad into religious spheres.
He said, “When the Sangh Parivar and the BJP are hijacking festivals and dividing people on religious lines, efforts should be made by secular forces in the society to put an end to these practices. What we need is a secular platform where everyone can come and enjoy religious gatherings and festivals.”
RSS state general secretary P Gopalankutty said that the sudden surge in CPM’s enthusiasm towards religious matters is a desperate attempt to keep its flock together. He also added that the party organised the procession to stop its workers from joining the BJP and the RSS.
Meanwhile, political critic NM Pearson is of the opinion that there is nothing wrong in CPM conducting such processions or celebrating religious festivals especially when the BJP and the RSS are staking claim of every other religious festivals and symbols. However, the CPM leadership is not accepting it openly.
“The CPM has become a mere collection of people from party cadre, and this has led to uneasiness among certain workers forcing them to take the exit door. Many of them abandoned the party and joined the BJP or the Congress. Every party is seeking the help of certain religious group to ensure their progress and that is what the CPM is also doing. They have no other option,” says Pearson.
Meanwhile, soon after the procession controversy, another row kicked up with Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam coming strongly against the CPM. The latest episode involved a tableau that the CPM put up during the procession at Kannur, depicting the iconic social reformer Sree Narayana Guru being nailed to a cross. This infuriated the SNDP leadership. The tableau had the Guru nailed to a cross with his famous slogan ‘One Caste, One Religion, One God’ tweaked with ‘One’ being cut and rewritten as ‘several’.
Intention of the CPM was clear as it was attacking the Hindutva forces for hijacking the Guru’s principles. But, SNDP failed to understand this and their leaders passed a resolution against CPM leaders on 7 September for defaming their spiritual leader. SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan in a press meet said, “CPM has turned Judas and nailed the Guru on the cross. They have dishonoured the Guru.”
Meanwhile, party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and opposition leader VS Achuthanandan came up with explanations that CPM should have taken extra care while depicting religious leaders in a procession and it was not done purposefully to hurt the Guru and the Ezhava community.
However, with SNDP general secretary demanding a public apology and the Yogam publicly disowning the CPM, the party will have lot to deal with in the coming days. With the local body polls scheduled to be held in the beginning of November, the CPM has enough on its platter.