CPM’s return to roots may alienate minorities

CPM’s return to roots may alienate minorities

New Delhi: A new effort by the beleaguered Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, to return to its ideological roots may backfire and drive religious minorities—its main support base—further away, political analysts and opponents said.

A “rectification" document, being circulated among the party’s lower rungs, instructs leaders to stay away from religious functions. It is part of the CPM’s revival strategy, formed in the aftermath of last year’s electoral debacle in which the CPM saw its presence in the Lok Sabha dwindle from 43 to the lowest-ever 16 seats.

The setback was largely blamed on the alienation of Muslims and Christians, who have traditionally voted for the party, particularly in its bastions of West Bengal and Kerala. The new policy, said sociologist Feroz Bakht Ahmed, could turn that alienation into antagonism.

“Right or wrong, people in India believe in active participation in religious functions. Preventing them from doing it will create abnormality. The party should have left it to individuals," Ahmad said.

The rectification drive claimed its first victim in K.S. Manoj, a former Lok Sabha member of the CPM and a Christian. Manoj, who is a doctor by profession, quit the party protesting the edict against participation in religious functions. “This I found difficult because I have a strong belief in my religion," Manoj said.

Last year itself, Kerala unit member A.P. Abdullakutty cited the CPM’s “negative attitude to the religious freedom of party members" as one of the reasons for breaking ranks with the party.

In an interview to Malayalam weekly Mathrubhoomi, Abdullakutty, now a Congress MP, alleged that CPM leaders had pulled him up for participating in Umrah—a pilgrimage to the Mecca by Muslims—and attending Id prayers.

Subrata Mukherjee, a professor of political science at Delhi University, agreed. “In the coming months, the CPM will have to concede the point those MPs have made," he said.

The rectification document also carries dos and don’ts about party members’ lifestyles and instructs them against the accumulation of wealth. CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said it was “not some sort of a purge to remove bad elements from the party, but is a way to correct the political orientation of the party, revitalize it on the basis of our Marxist ideology and overcome any wrong trends within the party".

Nilotpal Basu, another senior CPM leader, said the party had “most categorically stood" for freedom of religion.

CPM’s political opponents also expect the rectification document to cost it dearly. “The CPM, which is ideologically opposing religion, has been fooling the people of Kerala and West Bengal by pretending that it stands for the minority rights," said E.T. Mohammed Basheer, an Indian Union Muslim League MP and former Kerala education minister. “Now that the party comes on record clarifying its position, all those left (among the minority voters) would go away. Manoj’s statement has just confirmed what Abdullakutty said almost a year ago," he added.

Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the apex body of the Catholic church in India, also said “Such a diktat will make the believers feel that they do not have any place in the party. If the party categorically says that party members should not take part in religious activities, it clearly indicates that there is no converging space for both. It is natural that the community will go away from it."

The CPM’s constitution does not specify whether its members need to be non-believers, but it has come down on any public expression of religious faith by them. In 2006, two members of the Kerala legislative assembly invited the party leadership’s ire by taking oath in the name of God.