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Community, caste trump class
Kerala's new ruling Front is not representative of the state's population. Forty seven of the 72 MLAs in the Congress-led United Democratic Front are Muslims and Christians who will now rule over 55 per cent of the Hindu population, " bemoans a message floating in the cyber world.
For a state that unabashedly voted along communal and caste lines in the just-concluded Assembly polls to choose between the Congress and CPM-led Fronts, it's a far cry from the 1950s when it played host to the world's first democratically elected communist government under EMS Namboodiripad.
"Things have changed drastically in the last five decades. We never had so much of religious interference and communal polarisation in those days, " reminisces Berlin Kunjananthan Nair, who was Secretary to EMS when the latter assumed office as chief minister in 1957. The 85-year-old who subsequently fell out with the CPM following ideological differences feels that party activists were proud to proclaim themselves as atheists in the past. "The same party later exhorted its cadre to infiltrate temple committees and bring them under their control with the result that it lost its ideological base, " says Nair. His earliest recollection of the communalisation of the electorate is the vimochana samaram (liberation struggle) of 1958 when the Catholic Church and the Nair Service Society (NSS) representing the influential Nair Hindus closed ranks to oust the EMS government.
G Gopakumar, analyst and former head of the department of political sciences at Kerala University, agrees that "a communal pattern was pronounced this time. " He explains, "The Church and Muslims consolidated behind the UDF, but this was offset by the VS Achutanandan factor. The Left Democratic Front took full advantage of the situation by playing a soft Hindutva card. " Such communal trends, he adds, existed even in the pre-Independence period when the NSS and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) representing the Ezhava Hindus tried to align with the then Diwan of the erstwhile Travancore state, C P Ramaswamy Iyer, even as the Church opposed him. Both Fronts have played the communal card at various times, he says and recalls the Tamil Nadu Travancore Congress distributing seats in 1948 among supporters of the Church and NSS.
Some historians, however, feel the religious divide may have commenced even earlier and blame attempts to whitewash history instead of addressing the concerns. A case in point, recalls C I Issac, former head of department of history at the CMS College in Kottayam, is the 'Moplah rebellion' of 1921. He says that though it was portrayed as an uprising against the British by the Mappila Muslims, who were mostly tenants, the truth is that atrocities were heaped on the Hindu community who were mostly the landlords. Annie Besant writes in her book, The Future Of Indian Politics: A Contribution To The Understanding Of Present-Day Problems, that "Moplahs murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise.
Somewhere about a lakh of people were driven from their homes with nothing but their clothes they had on, stripped of everything. " Celebrated Malayalam poet Kumaranasan portrays the agony in his 1923 work Duravastha (Tragic Plight).
Former director of the Indian Council for Historical Research MGS Narayanan doesn't agree that the UDF win was backed by a minority upsurge. "The Left could give a tough fight this time because the Congress had squandered away its advantage. There was no communal polarisation of the kind being spoken of. Communal feelings have always been high in Kerala and need not be seen in a bad light. "
Nadapuram in Kozhikode presents more recent evidence of a class conflict taking on a communal hue. The nondescript town, where agriculture is the mainstay, is scene to sporadic violence between cadres of the CPM and Indian Union Muslim League. "What began as a conflict between peasants and landlords has turned communal. The peasants are mostly Thiyas (Ezhava Hindus), who are supporters of CPM while the agriculturalists are Muslims, " explains noted writer and social critic Hameed Chennamangaloor. Academics hold the view that incidents like the Nilakkal struggle when groups like the RSS "successfully thwarted" attempts to erect a cross en-route to Sabarimala and a controversy over the formation of Malappuram district on a demographic basis in 1969 might have only harmed the secular fabric.
K Jayaprasad, educationist and reader at the Kollam Sree Narayana College, asserts that the polarisation was real and long over-due. "The majority community felt marginalised as it saw the minorities with collective bargaining skills garnering all the fruits. A cursory look at the education scene would reveal this. Minorities or affiliated groups own 72 of the state's 98 engineering colleges, 12 of the 14 medical colleges, 16 of the 17 dental colleges, 14 of the 19 pharmacy colleges, 45 of the 55 nursing colleges, 206 of the 278 Arts and Science colleges and 102 of the 135 BEd colleges in the state, " he says.
Vellappally Natesan, general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), which represents the allpowerful Ezhava community, echoes the disenchantment. "Politicians, in their bid to appease minorities are leading us into a dangerous situation, " he warns. Spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference Stephen Alathara, however, wishes to allay the fears. "The charge of collective bargaining is fictitious. Religious minorities in Kerala have always thrived on the goodwill of the majority community. There are only 71 Christian and Muslim names combined in the candidates' list of the UDF. The single largest component of this formation is still Hindu, " he explains. About the statistics on educational institutions, Alathara points out "that is because it was basically a service sector and Church entered it at a time when no one else was willing to. "
Signs of a Christian consolidation were first expressed in April 2010 when the Kerala Congress (J) led by then PWD minister P J Joseph walked out of the CPM combine to join hands with ex-ally KM Mani of the Kerala Congress (M). The action was rumoured to be at the behest of the Church, but the clergy denies this.
Gopakumar avers that the pastoral letters issued by the Church from time to time proclaiming its political line might also have led to a Hindu backlash. "The irony, however, is that they rallied behind VS and not the BJP, " remarks Jayaprasad, adding that adding Achuthanandan's stand on issues like the ice cream parlour sex scandal case in which a Muslim League leader was in the line of fire might have influenced the majority.
The saffron party, meanwhile, blames its failure on the consolidation of Muslim votes. "In Kasargode, the Manjeswaram and Nemom seats, where we came second, the pattern shows that both Fronts are willing to go to any extent to thwart our success, " says a senior BJP official.
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