Kadakampally’s visit to Guruvayur temple: Is CPI (M) showing a friendly face to religious groups?

Kadakampally Surendran clarified that he was only doing his duty as Devaswom Minister, but that has not quelled criticism against him.
Kadakampally’s visit to Guruvayur temple: Is CPI (M) showing a friendly face to religious groups?
Kadakampally’s visit to Guruvayur temple: Is CPI (M) showing a friendly face to religious groups?
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It’s a sight that few in Kerala would have expected to see even a few years ago – CPI (M) leaders supporting or participating in religious events or visiting religious institutions.

A row has kicked off in the state over Tourism and Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran offering prayers at the famous Sreekrishna Temple in Guruvayur on Tuesday. The Minister had visited the temple on the day of Ashtami Rohini, and had reportedly offered Pushpanjali on behalf of his family members. The Minister also donated money for free food distribution.

A member of the party State Committee and former Thiruvananthapuram District Secretary, Kadakampally reportedly said that he felt content to have visited the temple.

After the visit sparked off a row, the Minister offered the explanation that he was only fulfilling his responsibilities as Devaswom Minister. The Pushpanjali, he added, was offered by his family members, as they are believers. “The controversies are being created by those who are intolerant of me fulfilling my duties,” he said.

However, Kadakampally’s explanation has not gone down well with party cadres or sympathisers. Pictures of the Minister, draped in a munduand a melmund (the traditional clothing worn by Kerala men while visiting temples) and wearing chandanakuri (mark with sandalwood paste) on his forehead, are being seen as an embarrassment by many.

One Facebook post flaying the Minister read, “There was a comrade in my place at Venjaramoodu. At the time of his mother’s funeral, considering the party’s stand, he didn’t enter the mosque for the death rituals. Instead drank a lemon juice from a shop near it. Has he seen Kadakampally draping kasavu (clothes with golden border) and melmund and offering prayers at the temple?”

This is not the first instance of CPI (M) leaders exhibiting a stance favourable towards religious groups in the state since coming to power in 2016. In April, Pinarayi Vijayan had criticised the demolition of a cross built on encroached land in Munnar by Revenue officials.

“The move created the feeling that the LDF government is waging a war against the cross. The government will not protect such moves,” Pinarayi said. Though CPI (M) veteran VS Achuthanandan had supported the demolition of the cross, Vijayan’s statement had a marked effect on the eviction drive.

Another CPI (M) firebrand G Sudhakaran had paid a visit to the Sringeri Sharadha Peetham pontiff Bharati Theertha in June, when the religious head came to the state. The Public Works Minister’s was accompanied by his cabinet colleague Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, a known economist and an intellectual face of the party. Following an uproar, Sudhakaran had said that Communists are not against religion.

In 2015, the party faced a lot of flak when processions were organised on Sree Krishna Jayanti under the banner of its children’s organisation Balasangam, though the party claimed that they were organised as part of Onam celebrations.

This is a vast change from the CPI (M) of even a decade ago. Take the case of the death of Mathew Chacko, a CPI (M) MLA, in 2006.

When Chacko died of cancer, the then Bishop of Thamarassery’s statement that Chacko had received the last sacrament on his hospital bed had kicked up a huge row between the Left party and the Church. Pinarayi, then the party state Secretary, had even called the bishop a wretched creature, and said his statement was a “hideous attempt to malign our dear comrade after his death”.

“A lie is a lie, it doesn’t become a holy lie just because it was uttered by a bishop,” Vijayan had said.

CPI (M) Polit Bureau member MA Baby, during his tenure as Education Minister, was engaged in a constant conflict with self-financing colleges, which also extended into a conflict with the Church, as many of the colleges were owned by it. He had even satirically said that the word rupatha (diocese) translated to asking for money. The Catholic church, for its part, had accused the Left government’s education policy of being anti-minority.

In 2007, when the then Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s wife visited a temple in Malappuram for the poomoodal ritual, that too had created a big sensation.

The party has not yet wholeheartedly endorsed Kadakampally’s actions. CPI (M) state Secretariat member MV Govindan, for instance, has issued a statement arguing that visiting temples does not befit those who believe in dialectical materialism. The party is also set to discuss the issue in its state Secretariat meeting to be held in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.

But some observers say that this discussion is likely to be a smokescreen, and that Kadakampally’s visit has the tacit approval of party leaders. One political thinker, preferring anonymity, says, “The party’s attempt is to create an impression that it is not against religion, temples or beliefs nor against respecting religious heads. The party’s decision to discuss the issue may have been prompted by the outrage against Kadakampally’s temple visit, especially on the social media. However, the party, is not unhappy about the move, I think.”

Writer and social critic J Reghu observes that trying to counter the BJP by dabbling in religion may prove counter-productive to the CPI (M). “With moves like conducting secular processions as a parallel move to the BJP’s Sobhayatra on Sree Krishna Jayanthi, the CPI (M) is encouraging people to go back to a mythical world. Those who travel through mythical worlds forget the realities of the current world, be it intolerance, demonetisation or harassment towards minorities,” he says.  

However, some party leaders have pointed out that in cases such as Kadakampally’s visit, they are subject to criticism irrespective of what they decision they take towards customary rules. MP MB Rajesh, for instance, has pointed out that Kadakampally was visiting as Devaswom Minister, and had to observe the practices of the institution.

“Just think if the Minister didn’t remove his shirt or didn’t follow the temple practices during the visit. The visuals would have been misused across India as propaganda against the party. False propaganda against the party has been actively done on social media. When we visit a place of worship we are bound to follow the practices there, not to hurt the sentiments of the believers,” he said.

He added, “We don’t necessarily have to be believers to visit a place of worship. We can also visit it for its aesthetic, artistic and archeological values. But those who hold responsible posts should behave with utmost care in such circumstances, especially given their sensitive nature.”

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