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Brewing trouble - Parties, media to blame


Irresponsible politics by Cong and the CPI(M) has put Kerala’s secular traditions in danger
August 29, 2010 16:51
Tags : CPI(M) |EMS Namboodiripad |Jamaat-e-Islami |BSP |

 Brewing trouble - Parties, media to blameB.R.P. Bhaskar 

Senior journalist and social activist

Kerala, which has had a long tradition of communal amity, now stands polarised on religious lines with political parties having their eyes set on the next elections and the media transfixed on TRP ratings and circulation figures playing roulette with gay abandon. The CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF, which have been voted to office in alternate elections over the past three decades, tacitly acknowledge the rise of communal sentiments, each blaming the other. 

An article in the CPI(M) daily Deshabhimani this week said, “Rightwing forces have always taken the stand of attacking the Communist movement using caste and religious politics. When the rightwing weakens such interventions become sharper.”

This is a palpable half-truth. No doubt the Congress has benefited most from the intervention of communal elements in politics. However, the communists have played the game as recklessly as the Congressmen. At present it is the Left which is weakening and the CPI(M) is playing the communal card. 

It is by invoking memories of the ‘liberation struggle’, which resulted in the overthrow of the state’s first elected communist government in 1959, that the CPI(M) projects itself as a victim of communal politics. It hides the fact that Nair patriarch Mannath Padmanabhan, who played a leading part in the campaign, had contributed to the undivided CPI’s electoral triumph two years earlier. 

After the fall of the first government, headed by EMS Namboodiripad, communists faced political isolation. It was with the help of parties with communal orientation like IUML and the Karshaka Thozhilali Party, which was launched by a priest to protect the interests of Christian farmers who had encroached upon tribal lands, that they overcame the problem. These parties joined the CPI(M)-led seven-party alliance in the 1967 elections and were rewarded with ministerial berths. Their entry into the corridors of power gave sectarian politics legitimacy and respectability. The Congress, which had enlisted the League’s support earlier to prevent the communists’ return to power, had kept it out of the government. IUML has been a part of power politics since then. It is now one of the Congress’s oldest allies. IUML split twice and on both occasions, the CPI(M) struck alliances with the breakaway groups. There are now other Muslim organisations like PDP and SDPI. The Jamaat-e-Islami has indicated readiness to enter electoral politics. A common factor animating these groups is the feeling that IUML takes a soft position on issues. Until recently, the CPI(M) was ready to do business with the most hawkish Muslim group provided it was against the Congress. 

IUML’s growing clout played a part in the emergence of communally oriented political formations in other religious groups. The Kerala Congress formed by a group of dissident Congressmen, mostly Christians but with a sprinkling of Nairs, is the most notable among them. 

The concept of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ is unreal in the Kerala context. The Hindus who constitute an estimated 56% of the population are only a nominal majority. Historically, the organisations of the Nairs and the Ezhavas, who probably account for about 16% and 22% of the population respectively, have tended to follow separate and often contradictory positions on issues of political import. The determination of these organisations to retain their political clout has foiled BJP’s bid to build a Hindu vote bank. For long the communists commanded the support of the Dalits and Adivasis, who form 10% and one per cent of the population respectively, but lately they have been seeking to chart an independent course. BSP and a new local outfit called Dalit Human Rights Movement are seeking to capitalise on their disillusionment. It is this situation that has prompted the CPI(M) to play the Hindu card.

Kerala’s tradition of communal harmony goes back to the Jain-Buddhist period. Jews fleeing their homeland to escape persecution found refuge in Kerala 2,500 years ago. According to local Christian tradition, not long after the crucifixion of Jesus, his disciple Thomas arrived here to preach the gospel and won converts to the new religion. Malik bin Deenar, an Arab, is believed to have built the Cheraman mosque at Kodungallur in 629 AD when the Prophet was still alive.

Thanks to the strength of the secular traditions built over the centuries, social cohesion holds tenuously but the suspicions generated by thoughtless political propaganda and insensitive coverage by the media, especially the 24x7 news channels, linger on. Efforts are on to preserve the secular ethos but these are marked by sectarian division and cannot be trusted to improve matters.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017