Kolkata: Out of power for nearly nine years and fast losing relevance in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) looks set to adopt an electoral approach that is far removed from its ideology, ahead of assembly polls in 2021.
A CPI(M) review report, circulated internally this month, states that the party cannot “leave the temples and other religious places to the mercy of the RSS and its various outfits”.
Instead, the ‘Review Report on Implementation of Plenum Tasks’ suggests that steps must be taken to intervene and “see that secular-minded believers and devotees are in the management of temples”.
“The RSS uses temples and other religious institutions to conduct their ideological and Hindutva propaganda. Festivals connected with local deities and temples are also appropriated and given an explicit colour,” the report states.
“We cannot leave the temples and other religious places to the mercy of the RSS and its various outfits. We must take steps where we can intervene to see that secular-minded believers and devotees are in the management of temples.”
To be fair, the communist party has for decades used religious festivals as a platform to connect to people through setting up book stalls and medical camps.
Only this time, however, its internal document speaks of setting up “permanent bookshops, medical centres and water facilities” inside temple premises to combat Hindutva. The document, however, has warned “party comrades” against joining the religious ceremonies.
The document, accessed by The Print, also calls for a larger “ideological fight against communal forces”.
“Intellectual resources and research centres run by the party should be deployed to mobilise 10 intellectuals, historians and cultural personalities for the ideological fight against the communal forces in educational institutions,” it states.
Communists moving away from ‘absolute atheism’
Even though the document raises questions on the ideological shift of the communists, senior CPI(M) leaders justified the suggestions, saying religious festivals and places turn out to be social gatherings, which the party can explore to connect with people.
“We have been devising ways to connect more with people. There is no religious agenda as such,” said Sujan Chakraborty, the CPI(M) leader in the West Bengal state assembly.
“We are trying to counter the divisive and communal forces of Hindutva. We have spoken about pushing secular people to mandir committees. It does not mean that we will send communists to these committees,” Chakraborty added.
“Setting up book stalls and medical centres on temple premises is also nothing new. We have always put up stalls near puja pandals during Durga Puja, Kali Puja and other big festivals,” he said. “This is the best way to connect socially. We are just broadening our scope for social discourse by setting up permanent stalls at permanent structures like temples.”
Political rivals are, predictably, not buying it.
Veteran Trinamool Congress MP Sougata Roy sees it as a shift in the Communists’ ideology.
“The Communist party was almost losing its relevance not only regionally but nationally. So they need to come up with new things to stay relevant,” Roy said.
“But they have long been using religious places to promote their ideologies. There is nothing new in this. In Bengal, they realised long back that they cannot connect to people socially by discarding religion and religious values. Absolute atheism will not work here.”
Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury said this is the CPI(M)’s version of “acclimatisation”.
“The Communist party is now trying to relate to people and their religious faith. They are facing continuous erosion in their support base,” he said. “To stop bleeding further, they have to respect common people’s religious sentiments. They cannot ignore religion in India and do politics.”
For the BJP, this is a signal of the CPI(M)’s end in the country. “A party that deviates from its ideology is surely approaching its end. Communists who call themselves atheists are now trying to take shelter at temples to promote their agenda,” said BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya.
“This is something people will never support. They are anyway losing relevance nationally. The ideology they believe in is foreign. They never had any connect to Indian soil and Indianness.”
Directions for educational institutions, tribal areas
The CPI(M) report also calls on party members to launch initiatives in the educational field, particularly at the pre-school and school level, with the help of teachers and social organisations.
“In Andhra Pradesh, vignana kendrams (cultural centres) have been set up in most districts. Some are conducting intellectual and cultural activities. In Kerala too, there are study centres in most districts that conduct seminars,” the document states.
“Kerala has also advanced in palliative care work, physical training centres and organic farming… We must give special attention to social and cultural activities in working class residential areas. Both trade unions and the party have to organise this.
“Develop the organisational work in the adivasi areas and among the Dalits to counter the multifarious activities of the RSS outfits,” it adds.
The mention of tribal-dominated areas is significant as RSS outfits usually hold reasonable influence in the state’s tribal villages. It was reflected in the 2019 elections as the BJP won all five Lok Sabha seats in the Junglemahal tribal belt.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the “tactics” will not change the Communists’ “electoral fortunes”.
“The CPI(M) is always trying to promote an agenda that goes against nationalist values. Now they want to use temple premises to promote their agenda,” Ghosh said. “They should also try to implement this in the premises of all other religions. Hinduism is open for all but what about other faiths?”