CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is least apologetic about his controversial remark that no one from the minority communities was in leadership positions in the Congress party. Instead, two days after, he has cranked up the aggression.
“If they are so worried, why don't Congress leaders in Kerala have the spine to question Rahul Gandhi's Jaipur speech where he said that India is the land of Hindus,” Kodiyeri said, after inaugurating the organising committee office of the 23rd CPM Party Congress in Kannur on Tuesday; the party congress will be held from April 6 to 10.
The CPM state secretary wanted to know whether the sidelining of minority leaders was the result of Rahul Gandhi's new philosophy enunciated at the Jaipur rally (on December 12). According to Kodiyeri, Gandhi said that India was the land of Hindus.
“All minority leaders in the Congress are being pushed to the margins. Where is Ghulam Nabi Azad? Where is Salman Khursheed? Where is K V Thomas? Is this part of the Congress's new national agenda," Kodiyeri said, flanked by senior CPM leaders M V Govindan and E P Jayarajan.
It was two days ago that Kodiyeri first posed this political poser. "By doing away with the precedent of picking a leader from a minority community as either the KPCC president or the opposition leader was the Congress trying to implement what Rahul Gandhi said at the Jaipur rally," Kodiyeri had asked, setting off a major political controversy.
It was pointed out that the CPM leader was playing communal politics by flagrantly referring to the religion of the Congress leaders.
On Tuesday, Kodiyeri elaborated on his stand, with more examples. He said Congress had always made a show of striking a religious balance and claimed this to be part of its secular character.
“When K Karunakaran became Chief Minister in 1982, the veteran Congress leader A L Jacob was made the KPCC president. When A K Antony became Chief Minister, K Muraleedharan was made KPCC president. When Oommen Chandy was Chief Minister, Mullappally Ramachandran was the KPCC chief. And the Congress had maintained that they were keeping their secular credentials intact,” he said, and added: “What has happened now to dump such a practice,” he asked.
Kodiyeri's thrust is on Rahul's speech at the Jaipur rally. He wants to use Rahul's words to brand Congress a 'soft Hindutva' party and keep it out of the anti-BJP alternative of regional and secular parties that is sought to be consolidated at the national level by the time of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. “Now there is no difference between the BJP and the Congress. One speaks of a Hindu nation and the other of a Hindu country,” Kodiyeri said.
It is also important for the CPM to erase the perception that the Congress is the only alternative to the BJP. The party feels that it was this perception that led to the near sweep of the UDF in Kerala during the 2019 polls. “They had 19 seats but they could not emerge as even a credible opposition. It is by now clear that the BJP could not be kept out by voting for the Congress. It does even exist anymore to be considered an alternative,” Kodiyeri said.
Significantly, the CPM has not officially criticised Rahul Gandhi for his Jaipur speech. Even national leaders like Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat have not come out against Rahul for what he said in Jaipur. This vaguely hints at differences between the national and state leaders about the role of the Congress in a prospective anti-BJP alliance during the 2024 polls.
It is also a fact that Rahul Gandhi's Jaipur speech was more nuanced than what Kodiyeri would want people to believe. The Congress leader was making a distinction between 'Hindu' and 'Hindutvadi'. “They are not one. They are two things,” Rahul had said during the Jaipur rally. “I am a Hindu but I am not a Hindutvadi. Mahatma Gandhi is Hindu but Godse, Hindutvadi. All his life, Gandhi went in search of truth. But in the end, a Hindutvadi took his life. A Hindu constantly searches for truth. Whatever happens to him, he will never swerve from the path of righteousness. But a Hindutvadi has got nothing to do with truth. He just needs power and he will do anything - kill, burn, hack, lie, anything - to grab power,” he said.
Satheesan counters Kodiyeri
Soon after, responding to Kodiyeri, opposition leader V D Satheesan endorsed Rahul Gandhi's Jaipur speech. “We fully stand by what Rahul Gandhi said. He differentiated between a Hindu and a Hindutvadi. Hindu is a way of life, a religion, while Hindutva is a political agenda to sow the seeds of communal hatred. Rahul Gandhi's was an attack on the Sangh Parivar. We hold the same opinion,” Satheesan said.
He said it was important to address the majority community as they were the ones being misled by the Sangh Parivar agenda. He said the Sangh Parivar was employing the fascist strategy of creating an enemy and mobilising the majority around the hatred for the enemy.
“This is what Hitler did, by making Jews the common enemy and directing all hatred and resentment towards that community. It had resulted in genocide. Here the BJP is doing the same thing by declaring the minorities as the common enemy, whipping up hatred in the majority community towards them and, thereby, consolidating majority votes. It is this Hindutva agenda that we are opposing. Not the Hindu religion,” he said.
The opposition leader said that he was an observant Hindu who believes in temple worship. “But even while being a Hindu, I will stop anyone attempting to undermine the rights of those observing a brother religion. Only then will secularism become meaningful in our country," Satheesan said.
The opposition leader found Kodiyeri's comments about the composition of Congress leadership in bad taste. “Before we (him and K Sudhakaran) took charge, who were the KPCC president and Congress Legislature Party,” he asked. It was Mullappally Ramachandran and Ramesh Chennithala. “Why did anyone raise any complaints then. Even earlier, K Karunakaran and C V Padmarajan had held the two posts at the same time,” Satheesan said.
He said that when Pinarayi Vijayan and V S Achuthanandan were holding the posts of CPM state secretary and chief minister at the same time no one in the Congress had asked why. “We will never ask such a question. Leaders are not appointed on the basis of religion or caste,” he said.