Having tied up with the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) to woo Kerala’s largest Hindu community, the Ezhavas, the BJP is striving to build on that by appropriating the legacy of social reformer Sree Narayana Guru and building a strong Hindu electoral base with the help of his followers.
It has formed an organisation with the backing of the RSS to spread the message of the widely respected Hindu figure, and charted out programmes including a mass movement to collect metal for a 201-foot statue in Thiruvananthapuram.
At a recent meeting in Delhi of the Sree Narayana Global Mission (SNGM), which is headed by R Balashankar, a former editor of the RSS’s Organiser and national convener of the BJP’s intellectual cell, the SNGM passed a resolution to take the mission of spreading the Gurudev’s message — a world-class research centre on Indian philosophy in his name in Sivagiri where he founded a mutt, an international university either in Delhi or in Mumbai, the 201-foot statue on the premises of the research centre, an international seminar, and his portrait in the Central Hall of Parliament.
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For the statue, the organisation plans a mass movement on the lines of its loha campaign for Sardar Patel’s statue — a yatra through temples from the south to the north of Kerala, with metal collected from people for the panchaloha statue (with five metals). “At least one million people will be part of this mission,” said Girijan Nair of SNGM’s Mumbai chapter.
The international conference is expected in October-November in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan, with the Prime Minister inaugurating it. BJP sources say the government has agreed in principle to install the guru’s portrait in Parliament’s Central Hall. While the research centre on 27 acres near the Sivagiri mutt will focus on the guru’s renaissance message, the university will have courses on ayurveda, yoga and other Indian forms of alternative medicine.
Sree Narayana Guru, born to the socially backward Ezhava community, had revolted against casteism and worked for social equality. Some BJP leaders say he was an even more intense reformer than Swami Vivekananda, but was restricted to being an Ezhava leader due to political reasons.
Officially, the BJP claims it has no links with the organisation which has a number of Keralite businessmen as its directors. Among them are P V Chandran, one of the directors of the Mathrubhoomi group of newspapers and periodicals; A V Anoop, managing director of AVA Cholayil Health Care Pvt Ltd that makes Medimix; and V P Nandakumar, managing director and CEO of Manappuram Finance Ltd.
“Individuals in the organisation have political links. This is a cultural organisation for civilisation studies,” R Balashankar said. “The guru had modernised and re-interpreted Hinduism. He led a great reformist movement that integrated society against caste. He also tried to unite people above caste and created a social atmosphere for the freedom struggle. Even Gandhiji was influenced by him.”
Balashankar conceded, however, that the activities of the SNGM would ultimately benefit the BJP. “We are genuinely interested in the teachings of the guru. But when the community realises that people are sincerely working to promote the reformist ideas of Gurudevan, naturally it will help the organisation [BJP],” he told The Indian Express.
“But it will not be correct to say that we are trying to adopt him only for political reasons now,” he added. “In fact, in 1969, when Deen Dayal Upadhyaya conducted the Jana Sangh’s all-India conference in Kozhikode, the venue was named Sree Narayana Nagar. There has always been a conscious effort by the BJP and the RSS to understand the concept of the guru’s teachings. The first book on him was written by P Parameswaran, an RSS ideologue.”
BJP sources said some of the resolutions would be implemented before 2019, “when the BJP faces the real test” in Kerala.
In a number of other states, particularly in those where it is organisationally weak, the BJP has claimed ideological affinity with Subhash Chandra Bose, B R Ambedkar and communist revolutionary Bhagat Singh; in Tamil Nadu, it has tried to appropriate K Kamaraj, a Congress veteran, who still has supporters among the politically important Nadar community.