Kolkata: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) believes that the way forward, in combatting “religious fanaticism” and the “vicious political atmosphere”, is to have its members in religious places.
In a review report circulated last month, the CPI(M) had said that “temples and other religious places” cannot be left at the “mercy of the RSS and its various outfits” and that the party must “intervene to see that secular-minded believers and devotees are in the management of temples”.
With assembly elections just a year away in West Bengal, where the BJP has made substantial gains, the CPI(M)’s politburo members are defending the assessment but add that they will implement it in all religious places.
The politburo is the CPI(M)’s highest decision-making body.
‘Not departure from ideology, but need of the hour’
The communist party’s top brass feels that “being closer to god” allows the party to project a more progressive image of itself and does not go against its ideology.
“We have always used public places and social gatherings to connect with people,” said Mohammad Salim, former MP and a CPI(M) politburo member. “We never directly get associated with any religious establishment. However, as the divisive and fascist forces are raising their heads and promoting their communal agenda using the religious places, we cannot allow them to continue with this.”
According to him, the party had earlier not allowed its members to be part of puja or temple committees directly. But now, there is a need for secular presence in such committees.
“We cannot give them a walkover (referring to the RSS). It should not be a one-sided game. That is why, in Kerala and in some other states, we tried to promote secular values in places of worship through our members and supporters,” he added. “This is not only for temples, but it is applicable for mosques, gurudwaras, churches and other religious places.”
‘Age-old practice, now with clarity’
Nilotpal Basu, another senior leader politburo member, accused the BJP of making “aggressive attempts to distort religious sentiments” to gain a political edge and there was a need to counter it.
“It has always been a long-standing practice in our party to mingle with puja committee members as part of social festivals,” he said. “We are atheists but we never said that others could not believe in their faiths. If we do not step in now, the communal forces will get overwhelming majority. So, this direction brings more clarity to the secular ideas we believe in.”
While the communist party has for decades set up book stalls and medical camps at the venues of religious festivals, this is the first time that party has spoken about setting up “permanent book shops, medical centres, water facilities inside the temple premises to combat Hindutva”.
The party has, however, warned its comrades against taking part in religious ceremonies.
“We always set up book stalls in the over 3,500 pujas every year,” said Hannan Mollah, another politburo member from Bengal. “We will surely not enter the premises of the religious places but will have our presence in the area. This is so that people can see and believe in secular and democratic ideas. We do not believe in religion but we have never disrespected anybody’s faith.”