Delusions of Pinarayi;Crusade against church
I DO not know who said, "If you are not a Communist in your young age and remain a Communist in your old age, there is something wrong with you". So I consider it as part of my normal growth that I gravitated to the Left, particularly the CPM, during my student days.
Autobiographies of leaders like A.K. Gopalan and E.M.S. Namboodiripad had a profound influence on me. I got my lessons in Communism from EMS’ writings in the CPM mouthpieces "Deshabhimani" and "Chintha". I was always proud of narrating my first and last encounter with AKG.
It was in the mid-sixties. I was part of a group of students from M.S. High School, Ranny, going on an excursion to Malampuzha to see the newly-built dam there. We were asked to come and stay in the school the night before the bus journey was to begin from the school premises.
We decided to enjoy the one night of freedom we were bestowed with. Seeing a movie was one option we had. We walked to the Mahalaxmi theatre at Ittiappara, a good three kms from the school. It did not matter to us that the film was an old Tamil movie depicting a mythical story.
All that I remember is that I slept through the show, though bug-bites often forced me to change my sitting position. By the time the show was over, it was midnight. We walked back to the school. When we reached a junction where a "pan" shop was open, we stopped to have a bottle of aerated water.
Suddenly, a white red-garlanded Ambassador car screeched to a halt in front of the shop. I could see a familiar face in the car. It was AKG. He asked for a bottle of soda. I sprang to the occasion, bought a soda and handed it to AKG, whose speeches in Parliament as the virtual leader of Opposition were heard with rapt attention by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
AKG’s aide offered to pay for the soda but I had already paid it, a princely 10 paisa. Later, I heard AKG at a public meeting but could never reach anywhere near him. Thus began my affair with Communism. My father, a dyed-in-the-wool Congress supporter, did not share my belief and tried to dissuade me from it.
He thought that Communism and Christianity did not go hand in hand. A good debater, he would often corner me with his superior worldly knowledge while I had only bookish knowledge to counter him. When I showed him pictures of beautiful, healthy school children in the profusely illustrated "Soviet Land", a publication brought out by the Soviet Embassy to prove the success of Communism, he would dismiss them as pure propaganda.
My father’s main problem with the Communists was their atheism. How could a party that denied the Creator could ever serve the created, he would ask. Around that time, I read a long article by EMS about a Catholic priest in Latin America, who was known as the "red priest" because he also believed in Communist ideology even while serving the church with utmost devotion.
I showed the article to my father, who read it with great interest, though he refused to be drawn into an argument with me. I do not recall the Latin American priest’s name. He could have been one of the liberation theologians.
That the idea of a "red priest" was not a figment of EMS’ imagination became clear when the Keralites saw one such priest in Father Vadakkan. When the EMS-led seven-party alliance contested the 1967 elections to the Kerala Assembly, one of the parties in the alliance was the Karshaka Thozhilali Party (Agricultural Workers’ Party) led by the Catholic priest.
When EMS formed his second ministry, the first one being in 1957, he included in his Cabinet B. Wellington, a nominee of Fr Vadakkan, whose party won two seats. The priest was himself a member of the "Liaison Committee" that supervised the government’s functioning. That was when my father lost his argument that Communism and Church were antithetical.
While the tall and handsome Fr Vadakkan rubbed shoulders with the likes of EMS and AKG, Pinarayi Vijayan was just one of the 43 or so CPM MLAs. He came into prominence only after leaders like K.R. Gowri and E.K. Nayanar left the party of her own volition or expired.
None of the tall leaders of the CPM ever attacked the religious beliefs of the people, although they were atheists. I found it in bad taste when AKG said a bit humorously that a good Communist would spend money on attending the party plenum than on going to the Sabarimala, the Hindu pilgrimage centre on the Western Ghats in Kerala.
At that time I felt AKG could have used a better analogy. Like, for instance, "a good Communist would spend money on attending party meetings, rather than on lavish weddings".
I am, therefore, a little surprised that Pinarayi Vijayan, CPM’s State Secretary, has been going ballistic against the church. I have no idea what provoked the leader, whose only agenda so far has been to clip the wings of Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan. Unfortunately for him, the CM has greater mass following than Vijayan, who controls the party machinery.
Vijayan is a bit frustrated because, for all his organisational manoeuvrings, he remains suspended from the Politburo, which is the highest decision-making body of the CPM. What’s worse, under his leadership, the CPM found its Waterloo in the last parliamentary elections when CPM citadels fell like a house of cards.
He thinks that Christians and Muslims did not support the Left Democratic Front in the elections. He fears a repeat of the same phenomenon in the on-going elections to the civic bodies. So in order to consolidate the "Hindu" votes for the LDF, he has been relentlessly attacking Catholic priests and bishops. One is reminded of the soft-Hindutva adopted by the late Rajiv Gandhi, who once started the Congress’ campaign from the temple town of Ayodhya. In the end, the Congress lost not only its traditional Muslim votes but also its secular ideology.
Whatever has motivated Vijayan in going hammer and tongs at the Church, his crusade does not carry conviction. It is the practice of reading out pastoral letters in the church that seems to have antagonised the doctrinaire Marxist. The editor of this journal has forwarded to me the latest letter to the faithful, prepared by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference, to be read out in all the churches.
I did not find anything objectionable in the letter. Rather, it is very well-drafted and is intended to motivate Christians to take part in the elections. Such motivation is necessary for Christians. Why?
Though Christians are educationally more advanced than any other community, some of them are ambivalent towards politics. In fact, there is a section of Christians who believe that their primary concern is the return of the messiah and establishment of His Kingdom. In other words, it is the life after death that motivates them.
Many of them saw politics as a dirty enterprise from which the Christians should keep aloof. All I can say is that this is the result of a poor understanding of the Scriptural position. Jesus was not an anarchist; he respected the government when he told his followers: "Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar". When he stood before Pontius Pilate, he set an example for the Christians to respect the rulers and the law.
That is what the pastoral letter reminds the Christians. They have a duty to involve themselves in politics, either as candidates or as voters. Of course, it asks them to be wary of false promises made by politicians and political parties. One such is the practice of political parties fielding Independents to mislead the voters.
As a "young Communist" I wondered why K.K. Nair was never fielded as a CPM candidate from Pathanamthitta constituency. Although he was a CPM member, he always contested on the symbol of "bicycle", rather than the party’s "hammer and sickle". This was because the party knew that in Pathanamthitta, many Christians and Nairs who voted for him, in preference to Vayala Idiculla of the Kerala Congress and N.G. Chacko of the Indian National Congress, would not have voted for him if he contested on the party ticket.
It was a clever stratagem that paid rich dividends to the CPM till K.K. Nair used his status as an Independent MLA to vote for the K. Karunakaran-led Congress government. It was his lone vote that sustained the government. He was offered a ministerial berth but Nair knew his electoral arithmetic well to demand, instead, district status for Pathanamthitta.
The district status helped him win subsequent elections. In the KCBC letter, the bishops have asked the voters to be wary of such "Independents". How can the CPM object to it when it knows its own strategy of fielding Independents has on occasions troubled the party? Take the case of its former MP, a doctor who practices in a Christian hospital in Delhi.
The pastoral letter also points out some other unhealthy trends in the elections like fielding candidates with similar names to mislead the voters. I heard Sashi Tharoor mentioning how other "Sashi Tharoors" in the fray had taken away thousands of his votes. Of course, he won because of the overwhelming support he enjoyed. Another Congress leader V.M. Sudheeran once lost by a wafer-thin margin because a "duplicate Sudheeran" had managed to mislead a sizeable number of the Congress voters.
The only objection Pinarayi Vijayan can find in the letter is the reference to "atheists". The letter asks Catholics to vote for candidates, who are committed, truthful and "God-fearing". That rules out atheists. This can rattle an atheist like Vijayan. But are his worries well-founded?
By the time this appears, Durga puja would have ended. Who are the people who flocked to the thousands and thousands of puja pandals all over West Bengal? Are they only Congress and Trinamool Congress supporters? In West Bengal, there is nothing incongruous if a CPM leader is also a puja committee member. Similarly, there are countless Marxists in Kerala, who regularly go to temples, churches and mosques. They also flock to Pinarayi Vijayan’s meetings.
What Vijayan does not realise is that bishops and priests are also citizens of this country and they have every right to exercise their democratic right. However, it is for the voters to decide whom to vote for. Does he not realise that when the Indian voter stands alone in the polling booth exercising his right to vote, he does it in absolute secrecy and is not under any obligation to vote for anyone or for any party.
The only force that guides him in those precious moments is his own conscience. Nothing else matters. It is like the devout who stands before the Lord of Guruvayoor. Nothing distracts him in those few moments. However hard Vijayan tries, he cannot shake off his religious and cultural traditions like his own name, which is derived from Lord Krishna.
Did it ever occur to him that his party stalwarts Prakash Karat and Sita-Ram Yechury have religiously-inspired names? What this implies is that it is not possible for a Communist to totally distance himself from religion. Vijayan says politics is to politicians what religion is to priests. All I can say is, he has a poor understanding of both.
Tomorrow he can say that journalists should not comment on politics and politicians because they are not politicians. He does not realise the church has a responsibility to guide the faithful in all matters of life. And that includes politics. And, in doing so, it cannot deviate from its doctrines. For instance, Ten Commandments continue to be the cardinal principles of the church. Can it make a compromise on that?
Vijayan can ask his cadres to bash up his rivals but a church leader cannot do so, if he is committed to his faith. He does not know that in the evolution of civilization, the church played a major role. Its contributions, be it in the field of music, painting, science or literature, have been immense. Of course, I do not deny the burning of the heretics at the stake during the Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition that followed.
But for every heretic killed at the stake, a thousand or more were killed by the brutal regimes of atheist leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini, Pol Pot and Mao. Vijayan periodically mentions that the CPM protested against the attacks on the Christians in Kandhamal. I do not deny the support it extended.
But for the 55,000 Christians, who were uprooted by the pogrom, what matters today is not the support the CPM extended to them when Vijayan, perhaps, issued a statement but the continuous support the Church extends to them, be it in building new houses or looking after children orphaned by the pogrom or helping the victims get justice from the two special courts hearing the Kandhamal cases.
The church cannot escape its responsibility of looking after the welfare of the people on the ground that it is more concerned with the Kingdom of God. It is in this context that pastoral letters have their validity.
The church believes that a Christian is essentially an individual. He has the freedom to choose between the right and the wrong. In the domain of politics, too, he can only be guided. It is, ultimately, for him to choose the LDF or the UDF or the BJP. So why this needless attack on the church, Mr Pinarayi Vijayan?