Kerala is not immune to the lure of the RSS-BJP combine
While all eyes are on Karnataka, even Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, there are many flashpoints in Kerala, which have been overlooked. Both the Congress and the CPI(M) ignore such flashpoints at their peril. The two parties seem to think that they will be able to rule the state in turns in perpetuity.
Karl Marx, the prophet of the communist comrades in Kerala, said, “The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.” But the Left in Kerala is canny enough to understand that such a prospect is not feasible in a state which is increasingly wearing its religiosity on its sleeve. While many experts feel that the tiny coastal state will be the last bastion of secularism in an otherwise rapidly saffronising India, ground realities suggest that this is far from the truth. The BJP has long coveted the highly educated state with Scandinavian class development indicators, but Kerala has not given the BJP any parliamentary seats. A spirited bid was made some years ago to wrest the prestigious Thiruvananthapuram seat from the ebullient Shashi Tharoor by fielding a popular BJP veteran, O Rajagopal, in 2014. That Rajagopal was defeated only by a very narrow margin seemed lost on most commentators, including Tharoor, who celebrated this as a victory for secularism.
It is not that Kerala will fall to the BJP in the next election. But the RSS has been steadily laying the ground in the state with the BJP trying several permutations and combinations to gain power. The development plank will not work, because the state’s indicators are superb. In Kerala, the prime minister has not displayed his renowned political touch; in fact, in the election in which Tharoor narrowly won, it was his references to terror and Islam in northern Kerala that irked the volatile Malayali.
But the BJP has not lost track of its goal in the state. Since it cannot make education, healthcare, jobs or special packages its poll planks, it is back to the tried and tested Hindu card through its party boss, Rajasekharan, a veteran RSS man. He has never made any pretence of having anything other than Hindutva to offer. He has actively promoted various Hindu organisations, the key being the Kshetra Samrakhshana Samiti (KSS) meant to protect temples. Alongside are the Balasadanams meant for children to inculcate Hindu values in them from an early age.
He has been effective and has got key former bureaucrats and scientists to rally for the cause. The BJP may not have got seats, but its vote share has been steadily rising, up from 10% in the 2014 elections to 14% during the municipal elections. The RSS would like to go all out and put its agenda out front, but the restraining force is the mix of Kerala’s population: 26.6% is Muslim; around 55 % Hindu; and the economically powerful Christians form the rest.
It would be expected that a state which has seen several communist governments, which has an educated population and a strong rationalist movement would be immune to overt religiosity. But as always, Kerala turns this logic on its head. Religion has today become loud and in your face, with the three faiths competing for public space. So if the Hindu festivals are loud and public, so are the Muslim and Christian ones. If the Hindus have public and intrusive processions celebrating various festivals, the Christians think nothing of blocking roads with their own, all of them accompanied by ear-splitting loudspeakers. Rituals which were not prominent before are now becoming the norm in temples. This has released a latent anger among communities against each other, the veneer of education preventing it from boiling over into the kind of communal rage seen in northern states.
The once gracious and quiet temple festivals have today become threatening and loud accompanied by fireworks, drums, loudspeakers and lumpen hordes. An effort has also been made to incorporate festivals alien to Kerala, though so far with not much success. The grievance card is being played, despite the fact that the Hindus have not been marginalised or discriminated against. The comrades themselves are not above playing religious politics. Then secretary general of the CPI(M), Prakash Karat, once shared a stage with Abdul Naseer Madani of the People’s Democratic Party, known for his extreme views, in the hope of winning over the Muslim vote. It is a different matter that Madani, despised by many Muslims, could deliver nothing by way of secular legitimacy to the Left.
The increasing Wahhabisation of Kerala’s Muslims, thanks to the bounty from countries such as Saudi Arabia, has seen the rise of radicalism in the Malabar, home to the majority of the state’s Muslims. This is manna from heaven for the Hindutva forces who can now club the Muslims with the larger ummah, people who have no allegiance to the state.
Even small Hindu outfits have crawled out the woodwork to make common cause with the RSS’s Hindutva agenda. It is now less necessary to hide one’s feelings. This explains the open resistance to the writer, MM Basheer, whose erudite column on the Ramayana in a well known newspaper. Basheer had to give up the column on account of the fact that he was a Muslim writing on a Hindu scripture, anathema to the RSS and its ilk. The trolls are out in full force at any perceived insult to Hinduism.
There have been many other instances of intolerance — the burning down of a library thought to contain books which were anti-Hindu being one of the most egregious. This is a comedown for a state with a fine literary tradition and a once thriving library culture. While all eyes are on Karnataka, even Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, there are many flashpoints in Kerala which have been overlooked.
Both the Congress and the CPI(M) ignore such flashpoints at their peril. The two parties seem to think that they will be able to rule the state in turns in perpetuity.