Thiruvananthapuram: The compulsions of vote bank politics, especially after Narendra Modi's rise to power, have forced the Marxists to embrace the gods.
When the CPM for the first time in its history conducted a colourful parade of little Krishnas along Kannur roads on Janmashtami day in 2015, it did so unapologetically and with unblinking devotion. The party made no bones about the fact that it did not have a choice.
The politically neutral but religious Hindu families in Kannur were decking up their little ones as Krishna and gleefully sending them to the 'sobha yatras' organised by the Sangh Parivar's 'balagokulams'.
This flow had to be stemmed at any cost for the party to keep its hold intact on Kannur. The party couldn't care less even if the move was dubbed Hindu appeasement, and it has been religiously conducting the Krishna pageantry in Kannur ever since.
But now, when it has come to light that it is sponsoring a series of programmes during the Ramayana month, the party is running for cover.
The CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has distanced himself from the Ramayana project. He said that Samskritha Sanghom, which was conducting the Ramayana month programmes, was not linked to the CPM.
Fact is, the Sanghom has top CPM leaders like Dr V Sivadasan as its members.
The leadership has clearly been jolted by the sudden controversy triggered by its reported moves to observe the Ramayan month.
CPM did not want its focus on Rama, unlike in the case of Krishna, to acquire a religious colour.
The party leadership wanted a socialist spin put on the Ramayana project. Clear instructions were given to sell the month-long Ramayana programme as a Marxian counter narrative to the 'brahmanical Ramayana' propagated by the RSS and the BJP. But before the Sanghom could act, the party was forced to go on the backfoot.
The Sanghom, however, is going ahead with the project. “We have found that the idea of Rama has been refurbished to suit the political designs of the Sangh Parivar. The series of seminars we are planning is an attempt at recovering the true origins of Rama. We want to tell the truth about Rama, and we want to prevent the self-appointed arbiters of Indian culture from hoodwinking the faithful,” said Thilakan, the convenor of Samskritha Sanghom that will be organising the Ramayana programmes.
Thilakan, the former state president of the CPM-affiliated Kerala School Teachers' Association, will use his clout to invite Sanskrit teachers from across the state to take part in the Sanghom's Ramayana observance.
Seminars on the topic 'Thoughts on Ramayana' (Ramayana Chinthakal) will be held in all districts from July 15 to August 15. Thilakan said that only people with secular credentials and Sanskrit scholars, like K P Ramanunni and Sunil P Ilayidom for instance, will be invited to present papers.
Ilayidom, who has agreed to take part in one of the seminars, said that the idea was to debunk even the Ramayana month concept.
“Though there were Ramayana readings at homes and temples during the Karkidaka month, it was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that institutionalised this mostly personal ritual into a Ramayana month observance,” Ilayidom said.
He views this initiative as a progressive political movement that was long overdue. “The Left-leaning intellectuals should have taken this up long ago,” he said.
He wants the general public to know about the multiple Ramayana readings. “It is not a monolithic text, even within the text there are multiple readings. And then there are innumerable versions within the country and outside,” Ilayidom said.
He said there is a portion in Ezhuthachan's 'Kilippattu' where Sita herself speaks about the multiple versions of Ramayana. Rama has to be recovered in his original form, he said.
The Samskritha Sanghom, which was formed two years ago, is a collective of CPM members well-versed in Sanskrit. Members interested in knowing more about Sanskrit are also part of the collective. It will function as a fact-checker of sorts that will spot elitist and discriminatory interpretations given to 'puranic' texts, call them out, and promptly challenge them with a socialist narrative. In short, a fault-finding machine that will go 'beep beep' whenever the BJP reinterprets the ancient texts.
The seminars will mainly attempt to ground Rama, strip him of his lordly halo.
“For instance, the talks will differentiate between Valmiki's Ramayana and Adhyathma Ramayana,” Thilakan said.
“In Valmiki's Ramayana, Rama is not mentioned as god, he is just a king of the Ikshvaku dynasty. That is how Narada intoruduces Rama to Valmiki. However, in Adhyathma Ramayana, a Sanskrit text in the Bhakthi tradition, Rama is Sree Rama, a god,” Thilakan said. The seminars will also expound on the mindboggling versions of Ramayana, in most of which Rama is mere human.
Social activist and former naxallite K Venu said such strategies were inevitable if the CPM wants to hold on to its traditional vote base.
“The dalits and backward caste Hindus constitute the CPM's major vote bank. At a time when the BJP is exerting its influence on this demographic, the CPM has no choice but to devise ways to keep its vote base intact,” Venu said.
However, Venu refuses to call this 'soft Hindutva'. “Perhaps, this is Hindu appeasement. Hindutva, whether soft or hard, is Hindu nationalism. I don't think the CPM, or even Rahul Gandhi who visited temples in Uttar Pradesh, were calling for a Hindu 'rashtra'. Of course, both were appeasing the Hindus,” he said.
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