From Karl Marx to Lord Krishna is a leap of faith for communists. Last Janmashtami, the CPM in Kerala had attempted it only to fall foul of both non-religious fellow travellers and the religiously inclined. The baby communist Krishnas — little children dressed up as Balkrishna — who marched with placards that had photographs of Marx, Lenin, EMS and Harkishen Singh Surjeet among others, did not amuse anyone. The project was abandoned after party leaders failed to convince even cadres that it was sound politics.
This Janmashtami, comrades have changed track and the marches are more in sync with their stated political beliefs. On Wednesday, the Kerala CPM launched a four-day long celebration, Nammalonnu (We Are One), to reiterate the oneness of all human beings. It helped that these days fall between the birthdays of Chattambi Swamikal and Mahatma Ayyankali, two reformers who laid the foundations of Kerala’s social and cultural enlightenment in the 19th and 20th centuries. While Ayyankali championed Dalit self-respect and political emancipation, Swamikal, born in an upper caste family, spoke out against caste discrimination. Basically, the CPM initiative is more about countering the Sangh Parivar mobilisations during Janmashtami. The parivar has been using Hindu religious festivals to reach out to believers and organise them around the religious identity. The disinclination of the political Left in Kerala to associate with religion publically can be said to have allowed the parivar, a relatively marginal force until recently, to occupy this space. Rising religiosity in society also allowed the parivar to derive legitimacy for their mobilisations. But with the BJP gaining electoral influence, a wary CPM seems to have decided against allowing any social space or icons to be appropriated by political rivals.
The BJP state chief has described the CPM initiative as a shift from Marx to Maharshi. The banter, hopefully, will be shared by their respective cadres, who have been clashing violently in many parts of the state. Marx and Maharshi need to coexist peacefully.