The state wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) seems to have decided to win back the support of Hindu segments of the population, particularly savarnas (those with caste), to overcome a drop seen in its vote-share after the government sent a team of policemen and activists inside a temple last year.
The forced entry of women’s rights activists inside the Sabarimala shrine — the biggest center of pilgrimage for Hindus in the state — was followed by one of the worst performances in any general election for the ruling Left Front. The alliance, which was until then expected to get around 10 out of the 20 seats, ended up getting only 1 seat out of 20.
In the immediate aftermath of the results, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who heads CPIM in Kerala, had rejected calls for any softening of his stand on Sabarimala, saying the party will not change its stand even if it faces electoral setbacks.
Since then, the party has been conducting an ‘outreach program’ among voters to find out the ‘real reason’ for the setbacks seen in the election. As part of the outreach, CPIM members have been visiting the homes of voters since July 22 to gain feedback.
Speaking about the results of the exercise, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan today wrote that some people did indeed move away from the Left Front due to its decision to send “people perceived as non-believers” into the temple.
The police party had taken two women, considered to be close to the party, inside the temple in contravention to the traditional prohibition on women between 10 and 50 years of age from entering the inner sanctum.
In the lead up to the incident, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s was the most powerful voice calling for the Left Front government to fully and quickly implement a Supreme Court order that held that all women had the right to enter the temple.
On the other side were leaders like Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Devaswom (religious affairs) minister Kadakampally Surendran who favored a ‘wait-and-watch’ approach.
In fact, when the Devaswom minister tried to defuse the situation by announcing that the government would only facilitate the entry of genuine believers and not all activists, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had reportedly mocked the position by asking whether there was a machine to identify true believers.
However, the feedback from the ongoing campaign seems to have forced the hardline wing of the party, led by the party chief himself, to rethink their approach.
In an article published today, Balakrishnan said the feedback campaign revealed that people who have never voted for any other alliance in their whole lives had done so this time.
“Even as they maintained that they were not opposed to the LDF, they pointed out that their shift to another front this time was not entirely an accident,” Balakrishnan wrote in his article.
Balakrishnan said CPIM is willing to make corrections.
“What has to be resolved will be resolved, what has to be corrected will be corrected. Because the party and the government is not above the [wishes] of the people,” he said.
However, Balakrishnan — or Kodiyeri as he is referred to in the state — seemed to indicate that the Left may be willing to go beyond mere correction, possibly into appeasement territory.
The party has traditionally been accused of appeasing the other two religious groups — Muslims and Christians — while adopting a ‘secular’ attitude towards Hindus.
The BJP has been striving hard to paint the Left Front as a anti-Hindu outfit and disrupt support for the Left, which gets about 70%-75% of its votes from Hindus, compared to only about 25%-30% for UDF.
In his latest write-up, Kodiyeri commented on the condition of Brahmin colonies in the state, that too, barely a week after a sitting High Court judge publicly lamented the dilapidated conditions of Brahmin colonies in remarks that created much controversy.
“A large portion of savarna Hindus are in an economically backward condition today,” Kodiyeri went on, referring to groups such as Nairs, Nambiars and Namputhiri and Tamil Brahmins who traditionally comprised the Hindu society in Kerala and are even today called savarnas or those who have caste.
“Many Brahmin colonies have fallen into deplorable conditions similar to slums. To reconstruct these, each household needs to be paid at least Rs 5 lakh. I assured [the inhabitants of the Brahmin colonies] that this [requirement] will be brought to the attention of the government and we will follow-up it up with action,” Kodiyeri said.
He also lamented that the policy of closing unprofitable public sector companies has hurt Brahmin households in the areas he visited.
“Educated women in these localities like to work only in select public sector outfits like banks, LIC and BSNL. However, employment opportunities in such companies have become few and far between,” he said, blaming the central government for their plight.
He also indicated a change in rhetoric for CPIM, towards a softer stance towards savarnas.
Though traditionally led by savarna leaders like Kodiyeri, the CPIM has always projected itself as the champion of the poor and depressed classes, who are almost always drawn from avarna (outside the caste system) groups such as Ezhavas and Dalits.
Explaining the situation, Kodiyeri said CPIM had adopted such a stance because most of the power and resources used to be with savarna segments in the olden days. Even as the fight for social justice will continue, assured Kodiyeri, the CPIM will now increasingly adopt a stand that “takes into account the social realities of today”.
It, however, remains to be seen how much the party’s new strategy can help it counter the disaffection created by the Sabarimala incident, as most of the disaffection would have been caused among the avarna segments, who not only form the core vote base of the Left Front, but also the most ardent followers of Ayyappa.