Identity versus class: Tamil Nadu CPI(M) temple fest bid marks ideological shift and sparks debate

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Tamil Nadu CPI(M)’s decision to take an active part in state temple festivals to counter the Sangh Parivar, caused a stir in political circles. This was stated last Wednesday by CPI(M) State Secretary K Balakrishnan at a press conference ahead of the party’s state conference to be held in Madurai next week. The move raised many eyebrows in left-wing circles as it was widely seen as a major departure from the core ideology of the CPI(M), which could spark conflict and confusion among CPI(M)-holding members. party card, who keep their political life free from issues related to religion and its symbols.

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A leader from the Cauvery Delta agrarian belt, Balakrishnan said the move was aimed at building “strong resistance” to Sangh Parivar rule in the temples. Even though it needs to be formally approved by the state’s 23rd CPI(M) party conference, he said the decision is about considering the cultural aspects of temple festivals that involve masses.

Communist parties in India, including the CPI(M), have always fought identity politics and focused on class politics, even though ordinary people across the country continue to hold various deep-seated identities, including religious faith.

The move by Tamil Nadu’s CPI(M) is clearly aimed at broadening the party’s base while seeking to play a greater role in electoral politics, even as virtually all Dravidian parties, including the DMK, now abstain to project their rationalist policy. . In the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, the CPI(M) contested under the DMK-Congress alliance and won two seats.

In his speeches during his campaign for the Assembly, DMK chairman MK Stalin, the chief minister, also used to list his party’s work over the decades for the protection of Hindu temples. The Dravidian and left-wing parties then appeared shaken by raising awareness among BJP believers through a campaign centered on Lord Murugan, the most popular Hindu god in Tamil homes.

“The decision of the CPI(M) Tamil Nadu unit is a highly opportunistic and hypocritical decision. They should have started engaging with the faithful at least 50 years ago. You should have had this dialectical approach to approaching religion and spirituality,” said Ramu Manivannan, former director of political science at Madras University. “They denied castes and all identities to promote class politics, and let down the farmers and the oppressed. They did not think of religion when they were allies of the UPA government (in the Center). Now they are entering the religious regime for vote banking politics, after seeing the BJP using religion effectively,” he charged.

It is another matter that the CPI(M) of Kerala, which is currently the ruling party in that state, has taken similar action over the years. He has forged ties with several important temple committees in addition to participating in the celebration of Hindu festivals with the aim of curbing the influence of the BJP and RSS there.

A prominent writer, poet and ex-Naxalite, Civic Chandran, who had been associated with left-wing armed groups in southern India in the 1970s and 1980s, hailed the attempt by the Tamil communists to acknowledge the existence of the faith in people’s lives. “But it shouldn’t be that typical communist utilitarian tactic to hijack something, but an effort to acquire a language to engage with the faithful. Communists should internalize the values ​​of the faithful if they want to distance them from the communitarians. Communists should realize that they can become spiritual without being religious or going to temples,” he said.

The “problem with communist movements”, Chandran charged, was that they “denied everything but class”. “They denied all identities. If you’re a lonely urban Naxal, you can believe in a one-dimensional class war. But when you are a mass movement, you have to engage with the families, talk to the most ordinary people, who are all loyal… Let them (the communists) realize that the spiritualization of politics is also possible”, a- he declared.

On the question of whether communists and rationalists could be both materialists and spiritualists, the eminent Tamil writer Cho Dharman said, “It seems they can.” He claimed that the Communists had never known how to differentiate between blind beliefs and local culture. “Even the British knew it, they never touched the faith. But Periyar and the communists denied the faith, they ridiculed the gods. What did they gain? I’m happy if they realized now the shades of faith, that the single revered stone was not blind belief but an icon of memories and our own history,” he said.

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