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OPINION | Kerala CPM’s Hindu Vote Strategy is Running Into Rough Weather

Completely scandalous as the incident was, there is a deeper malaise beneath the rising Hindu assertion in Kerala to counter what is maybe wrongly perceived as the power of minorityism in the state.

Binoo K John |

Updated:September 17, 2017, 11:59 AM IST
OPINION | Kerala CPM’s Hindu Vote Strategy is Running Into Rough Weather
File photo of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan.

During the Sree Krishna Jayanthi celebrations that are catching on in Kerala, a five-year-old kid made up as Krishna was tied to what looked like a huge plastic leaf and was taken in a procession through the streets of Payyannur in north Kerala on September 12. One onlooker was quoted as saying that he could see the small boy tied to the apparatus for over two hours trying to shield his eyes from the sun by moving his face this way and that. This incident of child abuse generated the normal dose of outrage in Kerala after a lady posted the picture on Facebook after which the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights registered a suo motu case.

Completely scandalous as the incident was, there is a deeper malaise beneath the rising Hindu assertion in Kerala to counter what is maybe wrongly perceived as the power of minorityism in the state. One part of it is the huge celebrations of days like Sree Krishna Jayanthi that never really happened in Kerala in a big way. The other surprisingly is that the ruling party the CPI(M) is making a serious effort to entrench itself within Hindu ritualism in Kerala which has a slew of temple festivals spread across the state which is also home to a leading pilgrimage centre in South India, Sabarimala.

The visit of state tourism and Devasom minister Kadakampally Surendran to the Guruvayoor temple on September 12 was also part of the undeclared CPM effort to endear itself to the Hindu population in Kerala. Surendran said that he went to the temple as Devasom Minister who is in charge of temples and he had to show courtesy to the gods. But earlier, CPM ministers of Devasom did not find it important to enter temples and worship. The CPM is asking the minister for an explanation but he is likely to be let off, for it is unimaginable these days that a minister will get sacked for worshipping at a temple.

The CPM is aware that it came to power in Kerala on the back of a Hindu backlash vote against what was seen as the rising minority politics of the Congress-led UDF where all major ministries were held by Christians and Muslims, till at one point the Congress was forced to bring in a Hindu home minister. So the CPM cannot afford to alienate the Hindu vote. Hence the huge success of various Hindu celebrations in the state.

Though there may not be a larger political intent, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has of late been seen with many Hindu spiritual leaders, the latest of which was him posing with the Isha foundation chief Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who was in town to kick off his Rally for Rivers. Vijayan had also earlier announced a government feasibility study for an airport in Sabarimala, in a state which already has four international airports, a clear attempt to win the admiration of the Hindus.

The Kerala CPM has now informally allowed its local leaders to be part of temple committees though taking part in rituals or pujas is not allowed. This was the line which minister Surendran crossed. It is because of this active interest in temple-related functions that the Krishna Jayanti celebrations is becoming big in Kerala. The main thoroughfares of the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram was packed with men in uniform-saffron mundus and white shirt and young boys dressed as Krishna, during the Krishna processions. The Payannur function was held by the Sangh Parivar outfit Balagokulam but such functions cannot be held on a grand scale without the CPM’s subtle support, especially in Malabar where its cadres have longfought the RSS. Once upon a time, the streets of the capital were often and usually packed with men holding red flags. The CPM cadre has now eased into a position where it can easily replace the red flag for variations of the saffron flag.

Ironically, this strategy is also aimed at preventing the RSS from taking complete control of temple festivals and important Hindu dates though the RSS can rightly claim ideological allegiance to such celebrations. Though in northern Kerala there is a history of clashes between the RSS and CPM, generally throughout the state the cadre of both the RSS and the CPM have a cosy working relationship. The temple festival committees also mean cash collection and some element of protection money, and in this art the CPM scores over all others.

The CPM this week started state wide meetings of its various committees. The party has a registered cadre of 4.63 lakh and 31,700 branches and 2093 local committees according to latest stats. This signifies a stranglehold over the state and its many winding streets. The CPM no doubt is still fully secular and Pinarayi Vijayan has time and again attacked the PM and BJP’s divisive politics. The irony now is that the party with such large clout has to play a small degree of majority appeasement to maintain its grip. The Payannur celebration when the RSS outfit went overboard, the Marxist minister’s worship at Guruvayoor are only outward indication of this subterrenean mollycoddling of Sangh Parivar outfits.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)

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| Edited by: Ananya Chakraborty
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