Playing Ducks and Drakes with the Unique Ethos of Kerala

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The distrust of the RSS-BJP whose professed ideology is at variance with and is abhorrent to the local populace, who are all equal participants in the political narrative of the state. Their modus operandi as has shown – displace opposition governments through strident nationalist posturing and communal overhype was on course. In accordance, letting loose their armory of personal attacks, bogus videos, fake news and abusive social media trolling are all fair game. Here’s Sreelata in-depth political analysis. A exclusive.

Suddenly it’s all about Kerala. Every national news outlet, channel, and BJP leader is all over ‘God’s own country’ like a bad rash that’s fast- spreading. Why? An RSS- BJP member, about the 42nd to have been done so far in the immediate past, was found hacked to death in a horrendously brutal manner and our ruling party at the Centre and its ministers are upset and most concerned. Not to trivialise this particular horrific murder, but it didn’t matter to them that 65 other CPM members had also met shockingly barbaric ends similar to their ‘Karyakarta’ or that this ‘pattern’ of  tit for tat killings has been going on for more than forty years through successive elected governments  at both levels with apparently no end still in sight. In fact, if history is to be believed, it has been so, ever since RSS’ first determined attempts to spread its tentacles all over the tiny state and enter Kerala politics – hitherto without much success.

With almost 300 people having succumbed to similar gruesome political deaths, our Union Finance and Defence Minister Jaitley when asked while condemning such attacks why he didn’t think it necessary to visit and condole with CPM families, who were similarly grieving, said that ‘he was not averse to meeting anyone including the families of CPI-M..’ That one remark amplifies the inherent difference in the thinking of the present dispensation in Delhi that sees everything through the narrow prism of their religiosity and that of the plurality based home bred politics of Kerala.

Kerala was chugging along, quietly going about its usual business, doing its own thing–with a few killings here and a few killings there, Gulf remittances and ISIS notwithstanding – when Delhi woke up to the fact that there was a golden opportunity to milk the tragedy for all its worth and make a determined whole hearted foray into the state. Their modus operandi as experience has shown – displace opposition governments through strident nationalist posturing and communal overhype was on course. In accordance, letting loose their armory of personal attacks, bogus videos, fake news and abusive social media trolling are all fair game. And it has begun in Kerala.

While there is no doubt that partisan politics do play a major role in state politics, religion based ideologies do not have any over-riding dominance in Kerala polity – at least so far. Primarily perhaps due to its communist factor.Despite being extremely religious in their personal lives, the highly politically conscious Malayali is averse to ‘faith’ playing any significant role in their politics –  whether it be the CPI-M led LDF or the Congress led UDF. With atheistic influences holding strong and ostensibly favoring none, these parties have members of all religions in their cadres with no one religion dominating and a goal – all-round development is what they say and there is no reason to dispute that – common to all.

Also, although Communism has declined globally it has survived here regardless of its many perceived failures  – only because of its adaptability to local conditions and participatory nature. Its easy acceptance is based on its merciless championing of workers’ rights and land reforms – which did away with feudal fiefdom – irrespective of caste or creed.

Hence the distrust of the RSS-BJP whose professed ideology is at variance with and is abhorrent to that of the local populace that comprises of some 25 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Christian and 55 per cent Hindu, who are all equal participants in the political narrative of the state. Something that the BJP is unable to understand or perhaps not want to, as it is not in sync with their beliefs. Thus, despite the numerous RSS shakhas whose members have learned to coexist after a fashion for so long, the Nagpur/Delhi based brand has yet to comprehend in totality the mindset of the Keralite.

Even when Muslims the world over are seen to be insular, the Muslim leaders of Kerala to their credit have chosen to be participatory instead of rigid as much as the equally influential Church that has chosen to take a firm stand against polarisation. So much so there is no reason for the Malayali Hindu to feel shortchanged in any way.

With a unique tolerant mix of religions living in apparent harmony and interdependency, the Malayali on the street is appreciative of the fact that there are for all, equal opportunities for upliftment. Education, gender parity, and are not confined to any one particular faith or divide. Therefore, the determined resistance to the RSS-BJP brand of politics which at one point – although the party distanced itself immediately – even called for the head of the currently elected Chief Minister in .

Also, over the centuries the enlightened royalty of Kerala with their command over the state’s meandering coastline having played host to travellers of all hues, faiths, and creeds, an inbuilt sense of tolerance – of live and let live have crept into and merged with their peoples’ psyche. These rulers permitted missionaries to proselytise, welcomed Jewish migrants, traded spices with Moslem Arab merchants and traders not to mention allowing colonisers (Dutch) to drop anchor wherever. All this and more since 52 AD, when St Thomas first arrived.

Since then all those who chose to stay or have been converted have to their credit, seamlessly woven themselves into the fabric of Mavelinadu, as it was once known. So with the Malayalam language as a shared heritage, a Malayali Syrian Christian or a Protestant or a Malapuram Mopplah is as much a true Malayali as a Cochin Thampuran or a Palakkadan Iyer or the Ezhavas from Malabar not to speak of the Travancorean Nair. They have adapted, integrated and evolved in every sense of the word to become an undeniable part of present day Kerala society.

And that is why Onam is as much a festival of flowers and merriment for the Christians and Muslims as it is for the Hindus, just as the , the Eid biryani, and the beef fry are a commonly held celebration for all. That is also why the Lord of Sabarimala with a Muslim Vavar at its foothill is open to all faiths and why Oommen Chandy, the erstwhile Christian Congress CM of Kerala, stated with great pride that the fabulous riches of the Padmanabhhaswamy Temple belonged to the temple and not the state.

It is this inter-faith understanding that allows churches and mosques to open their doors to Hindu , who participate in the annual Attukal Pongala where thousands of  women line up to cook their offerings and why in every field of culture from ‘Theyyam’ an art form  to ‘Kalaripait’ – martial arts there are proponents regardless of religion. Pictures of Ayyapan and Guruvayurappan interspersed with images of Jesus and Mary and Moslem minarets as backdrops alongside a red hammer and sickle are all also par for the course in vehicles and very many homes.

It is this empathetic religious mix that the BJP-RSS is so desperate to convert into a more insular entity. Thus, there is this probable fear that if the RSS were to get a firmer foothold,  religions might get more firmly compartmentalised – the Muslims might be forced to harden their beliefs as also the Christians their stand, which is sadly perhaps happening already.

So trying to meddle with or play ducks and drakes with the ethos of a state where religious amity abounds is naturally asking for trouble especially from those who favor the colour red as they are equally ruthless and without qualms. It would have appeared more seemingly sincere at least, if the Finance/Defence Minister as behoves his status as a minister of the country had condoled with all those who had so cruelly lost their fathers/husbands/sons and not just his ‘Karyakartas’.

As we celebrate the 70th year of our independence it does seem ironic that the only state that truly embodies the spirit and the idea of an India envisioned by our freedom fathers should have media hordes descending upon the state capital to determine whether there is a reign of color based terror or not. The Keralite’s unequivocal response to that on national television was that it was no less or no more than what’s being let loose in the rest of the country or perhaps even a media creation.

©Sreelata Menon

Photos from the Internet

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Sreelata Menon

Sreelata Menon

When computers hit the scene, life changed for Sreelata Menon. A Masters in History (Mumbai University) she was with the Onlooker and world Trade Magazines before teaching History to undergraduates and doing a stint in an advertising agency. A web content writer, she wrote blogs on freelance writing, and current happenings for online and print publications. Author of ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’ her books also include Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin.
Sreelata Menon

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