Atheist CPI(M) to ‘back’ Ramayana month events in Kerala

The officially atheist CPI(M) party’s decision to back the events raised questions | Facebook
The party claims the idea is to encourage Sanskrit scholars vying to protect religion from communal forces.

New Delhi: Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has decided to “back” a series of initiatives by a group of Sanskrit scholars and cultural organisations during the Ramayana month in the state.

It is an attempt, the party said, to present a “counter-narrative to the religious propaganda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)”.

But since the CPI(M) is officially atheist, its decision to back the events has raised questions about the party’s changing stance, more so as it coincides with the rise of the BJP in Kerala.

The Malayalam month of Karkidakkam, from 17 July to 16 August, is dedicated to the Ramayana. The initiatives in question include seminars, debates, talks and similar events.

State CPI(M) leaders said their support for the events was part of its “struggle against communalism”, but denied the party or the government it heads would officially observe the Ramayana month or organise events to mark it.

“This is a group of Sanskrit scholars who have come together on their own terms to take up issues against communal forces who use religious scriptures for political purposes,” former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat told ThePrint.

Karat is from Kerala.

“We have given them the go-ahead that, if you want to, then why not do it? They have our backing, more so because many of those scholars are, in fact, CPI(M) sympathisers,” he added.

“The organisation (of the events), however, is not sponsored by the party,” Karat said.

Flirting with religion?
To be sure, this isn’t the first time the CPI(M) has sought to flirt with religion in Kerala. Over the past few years, the party has also organised Janmashtami celebrations, holding marches of its own to counter the Sangh Parivar’s increasingly popular processions.

The rise of the BJP in its last remaining bastion has made the CPI(M) deeply uncomfortable, as the Congress had long been its only rival in Kerala. The BJP has of late managed to make inroads in the coastal state, with the 2016 assembly polls leading to the election of the state’s first BJP MLA in O. Rajagopal.

Earlier this year, the CPI(M) was voted out of its long-held stronghold of Tripura in favour of a BJP government, while it is yet to recover from its crushing defeat at the hands of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

As five of its nine Lok Sabha seats are from Kerala, the CPI(M) is wary of ceding any space to the BJP with less than a year to go for the Lok Sabha polls.

‘Struggle against communalism’
M.B. Rajesh, the Lok Sabha member from Palakkad and state committee member, also defended the move.

“Some cultural forums and scholars have decided to conduct events based on the Ramayana to present a counter-narrative to the RSS/BJP’s religious propaganda which they use to communalise and polarise people,” he told ThePrint.

“These scholars have done this earlier as well. This time, the CPI(M) is supporting them as part of our ideological and cultural struggle against communalism. With this, we are intensifying our ideological struggle,” Rajesh added.

“Those spearheading the month-long movement are Marxist intellectuals. We are encouraging those who are organising these events, but these are neither under the party nor the government’s banner,” he said.

He also dismissed speculation that their support translated to a shift towards a religious bent.

“Our decision to back these events has nothing to do with religion. Ramayana and Mahabharata have nothing to do with religion either,” Rajesh said, adding that the move had nothing to do with next year’s Lok Sabha polls either.