Thiruvananthapuram: This Karkidakam month (July 17 to August 16) something unheard of will reverberate across the state. The 'Rama Rama' chants, usually heard from the loudspeakers of temples, will issue forth from the political meetings of the CPM and the Indian National Congress.
The CPM, which had once wanted the Ramayana burnt, is now trying to salvage the epic from the iron grip of the Hindutva brigade, and 'democratise' it. The Congress, which was till now supposedly fired by Nehruvian socialism that avoided any open expressions of religiosity, is out to demonstrate that the Ramayana is not any party's monopoly.
CPM secrecy and Congress showmanship
It seems that a wave of sarcasm, provoked by the CPM's reported Ramayana project, has forced the party to become suddenly discreet. It has distanced itself completely from Samskritha Sanghom, the CPM wing formed to give a socialist interpretation to Sanskrit texts. The original plan was to have CPM ministers inaugurate the district seminars on 'Ramayana Thoughts.' Now that CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has disowned the Sanghom, ministers might keep away.
The Congress, on the other hand, is openly enthusiastic about the observance of Ramayana month. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala will inaugurate the programmes that will be organised by the KPCC's cultural wing, Vichar Vibhag, (looks like the wing was christened by some RSS stalwart). Shashi Tharoor, the man who is spearheading the Congress revival movement, will of course be the main speaker.
Gone are the days when the Congress used to fold up like a 'touch me not' whenever the charge of pseudo-secularism so much as even scraped it. Now, Rahul Gandhi and cohorts barge into temples the way newly weds rush to visit as many houses of relatives as possible. Nehruvian socialism has been forced into voluntary retirement.
A taste of Parivar's own medicine
In a sense, the parties cannot shy away from taking on the Hindutva forces. During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, both the Left and the Left of centre parties like the Congress took a studied secular stand, at least in the open, and got badly mauled. Now, the strategy is to challenge the Sangh Parivar in its own game.
This is exactly what the 19th century social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy did to get the practice of 'sati' abolished. He did not use just logic, he interpreted the very texts of the priestly class, the vedas, to convince the Hindu society that there is no endorsement for sati in any of these revered tomes. Sree Narayana Guru, too, did the same. He mastered Sanskrit, not to become a scholar, but to rattle the very foundations of upper class orthodoxy.
Spirited individuals have also begun to use religion to push back what has been called a fascist surge. Former Naxalite T N Joy converted to Islam to protest the increasing attacks against Muslims under the Narendra Modi regime; Joy said that his mortal remains should be interred in the Cheraman Juma Mosque in Kodungallur. A Hindu family in Kannur named their newborn daughter after the Kathua rape victim.
Wishing away the caste system
So what the parties are about to do might look appropriate, the need of the hour. Still, because of certain inconsistencies in their thinking, the religious plans of these parties could backfire big time. Take Congress for instance. The party's articulator-in-chief, Shashi Tharoor, has put out a definition of Hinduism in his bestseller 'Why I Am a Hindu' that could be deeply troubling for marginalised Hindus. Even while describing his religion as a 'delightfully democratic faith,' here is what he writes about the caste system in the country. “No one can credibly argue that it (caste system) is intrinsic to the religion.”
At another point in the book he says: “Indeed, it is debatable whether they (the codes enshrined in Manusmrithi) were strictly followed even in the times in which they were propounded.” Tharoor very nearly stated that the caste system was nothing but a figment of the imagination.
Soul-sucker worse than Dracula
Was the Congress leader not aware that in his own state upper caste right wing forces had prevented the laying of the body of Asanthan, a Dalit painter, in the courtyard of the Durbar Hall in Ernakulam simply because they did not want an untouchable's body near a temple dedicated to, of all gods, Shiva, the mercurial deity of the oppressed and the marginalised? Was he also not aware that members of his own caste, the Nairs, had blocked a public way near a temple in Vadayambady near Kochi for no better reason than to stop Dalits from sullying the premises with their mere presence?
The question is whether the Congress is as concerned about Dalits who are being lynched and humiliated as it is about Hinduism. The very same question can be hurled at the CPM, too. A mere harping on Hindusim can only revive the spectre of a soul-sucking entity that spawned Brahmin priests and feudal lords who for the downtrodden were variants far scarier than Dracula.
But before pulling up the CPM, it has to be said that they gave a new lease of life to the state's Reformation Movement that seemed to have ended with the temple entry proclamation in 1936. Dalits were appointed as priests in the temples of the Devaswom Board in June this year.
Running with the wolves
Otherwise the CPM has been found seriously wanting. They were reluctant to seize the initiative in Vadayambady, and couldn't even force the Lalithakala Akademi to take a bold stand in the Asanthan case. The party's appeasement of orthodox middle-class Hindus, the core base targeted by the BJP, was revealed when the local party leadership in Kannur openly sided with a temple committee in Azheekode whose annual procession refused to enter the houses of dalits in the area. Even historically, the CPM had ignored Dalits. The land reform movement, though it redistributed wealth to the tenant class, did nothing for the tribals and backward castes, the absolute dregs who worked for the tenants.
Given this context, the 'Rama Rama' chants of Kerala's predominant parties could sound like a parody. Without a bold approach to address the caste question, their Hinduism can never look any different from that of the 'Hindutvawadis.' They are beginning to look like impostors. The Sangh Parivar leaders are already sneering.
(Views expressed are personal)
Read more: Coulmns