Bengaluru: The Kerala unit of Congress on Sunday cancelled a plan to hold readings of Ramayana as a way to counter similar initiatives from a group affiliated to the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the initiative faced a backlash from some party members. The readings were aimed at reaching out to Hindu voters and countering the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.

Soon after a pro-left group announced last week their plans to hold “alternative, dialectical" readings of Ramayana in all 14 districts in Kerala to combat the version of Ramayana taught by right-wing speakers, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee’s cultural wing, called Vichar Vibhag, announced that they would also hold similar talks on the Indian epic describing how “Rama Rajya", one of Ramayana’s principal tenets, is close to their favourite icon Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of good governance.

The event was supposed to be inaugurated by Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala on Tuesday with a key talk on the text by Congress member of Parliament and writer Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram. However, just like how it turned out for the CPM, the idea was slammed by some senior Congress leaders.

The CPM has distanced itself from the event, stating it does not have any direct involvement with it, apparently in a move to make peace with leaders who were worried that such an event would make them look leaning towards the cultural right. The fate of Congress’s plan was not much different.

“It is not something that the Congress needs to do. Ours is a secular party where members of different beliefs coexist," former state Congress president K. Muraleedharan said, according to a Times of India report on Sunday. “It is the duty of communal organizations to organize religious programmes, not that of a political party."

Others who made public statements against the initiative include senior leaders Pandalam Sudhakaran, V.M. Sudheeran and even state Congress spokesperson Rajmohan Unnithan.

Finally, Congress working president M.M. Hassan on Sunday issued a statement cancelling the event. “It was an independent cultural body associated to the party which decided to observe Ramayana month, not the party. However, since many leaders have expressed their reservations against it, I have asked them to cancel the event," said Hassan.

Observing a Ramayana month, by reading the text in Malayalam or Sanskrit in the last Malayalam month, Karkkidakam (July-August), is a long-standing tradition among Hindu families in Kerala, especially among the upper castes. However, those who are opposed to the Sangh Parivar camp believe there is a concerted effort to use such events to push Hindutva polemics and carve an electoral niche.

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