With the CPM-led LDF government in Kerala shifting gear in recent weeks by going from wooing Hindus to adopting a more “rationalist” stance, the ideological battle with the BJP is set to escalate in the state even as the saffron party appears to be in a dilemma over its strategy to counter the Left.
The BJP sees the CPM’s moves to challenge “age-old traditions and rituals of Hindus” as an attempt to retain the minority support base it had built by projecting itself as the only political force in the state that can counter Hindutva outfits and, at the same time, compensate for a possible erosion in its Hindu support base in the Assembly polls. Although Kerala is set to face its next electoral test only in 2019, the CPM and the BJP’s ideological war, so far confined to the northern districts, will spread to other areas, say political observers.
The CPM argues that it wants to build a “scientific temper” and create a progressive society to get rid of the “medieval philosophy” advocated by the BJP and RSS.
This month, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan ordered government employees to not use office hours for Onam celebrations and PWD Minister G Sudhakaran spoke against lighting “nilavilakku” (traditional lamps) and offering religious prayers at official functions.
The CPM, which had earlier taken a neutral stand on the entry of women into the Sabarimala shrine, also argues for it now.
The latest state government move — banning arms training and drills in places of worship — is also seen as a setback for the BJP. The party says the decision is aimed at stopping RSS from conducting training at its shakhas on temple premises.
Calling the move a “political game”, P S Sreedharan Pillai, former president of BJP in Kerala, told The Indian Express, “By taking an extreme position on traditions and rituals, the CPM wants to keep its Muslim support base intact and earn more support from the Christians, which would weaken the Congress-led UDF, the main opposition.”
Party leaders also questioned the government for not having made any remarks on the relaxation on working hours during namaz on Fridays.
Yet, the latest CPM strategy appears to have confused the BJP leadership, which is trying to consolidate Hindu communities and Christian votes. Party chief Amit Shah is learnt to have advised state leaders to get closer to Christian leaders as the party wants the community’s support in states such as Goa, and in the Northeast.
“There is a state of flux in Kerala. Both the CPM and the BJP are targeting the same support base — Hindus and Christians,” said political observer B R P Bhaskar. Pointing out that the CPM, whose support base was predominantly Hindu, is now trying to balance the fall in its Hindu votes by wooing Muslims and Christians, Bhaskar said: “In the coming days, there will be greater intensification of the conflict between CPM and the BJP. The conflict has so far been limited to Kannur but will spread to other parts, too.”
But the BJP will not give up, Pillai said. “We will soon arrive at an understanding with more Christian groups,” he said.
Senior CPM leader and Politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai, meanwhile, said the party and the government is trying to make people reject the “medieval philosophy” of the RSS and BJP. “What we have been trying to do is to rally together all secular forces in Kerala…to convey the importance of scientific outlook and logic,” he said. “(But the) BJP is trying to promote the philosophy of the middle ages.”