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What is the alternative in Kerala?
April 30, 2003
'I have wandered into a lunatic asylum!' Swami Vivekananda reputedly exclaimed after touring the princely states of Travancore and Cochin.
He was referring to the insane -- and sternly applied -- rules that governed the relationship between castes. Interestingly, by the time that he visited Kerala, both states had begun investing in modern education. (By 1939, when the advent of World War II deranged everything, Travancore and Cochin would be spending up to 25% of their annual budgets on schooling.) It would clearly be some time, however, before the early efforts began to pay off.
Today, over a century after Swami Vivekananda's visit, much has changed. Kerala is now a society whose educational levels shame those of northern India. Sadly, there is far too much that has not changed; the gaps created by caste and creed remain as deep as ever. Have you ever wondered why Kerala suffers from so many splinter parties? Well, it is because there are political groups which make a living out of appealing to the narrow interests of one or the other section of society. And I don't mean just, say, Christians for instance, but even different denominations of that faith.
This history goes a long way to explaining the action taken -- or rather the action not being taken -- against K Karunakaran. There is real danger that any such course will take on communal overtones, and thus boomerang on Sonia Gandhi herself.
How so? To begin, the A K Antony ministry contains more non-Hindu ministers than it does representatives of the majority community. That fact has been registered even though nobody has made an issue of it -- so far. It has also been noted that the two most powerful leaders in the 'A' faction are Oomen Chandy and Antony himself, both of whom are Christians. And all this, some murmur, is merely part of a larger picture, that of a Christian caucus which is taking over the Congress party.
There is Sonia Gandhi. There are her close aides in the Congress (I) headquarters, Margaret Alva, Oscar Fernandes, and V George. And besides Antony, there is another Christian chief minister, namely Ajit Jogi of Chhattisgarh. There is Rajashekhara Reddy, Sonia Gandhi's hand-picked nominee as leader of the Congress Legislative Party in Andhra Pradesh, a devout Christian despite the name.
(Reddy was responsible for one of the biggest faux pas committed by the Congress (I). Sonia Gandhi visited the famed shrine at Tirupati -- not open to non-Hindus -- during the election campaign in 1999. The priests demanded that she sign the register at the gate declaring her belief in the Hindu faith. Reddy pushed them aside stating that there was no need for someone from her family to do so. The fact that one Christian was testifying for another went down badly in Andhra
The Karunakaran faction is all set to portray any disciplinary action taken against their leader as just another instance of 'anti-Hindu' vendetta. Is there any chance that this scenario shall be considered sympathetically? The Congress (I) high command would rather not take the risk of finding out; it knows that Karunakaran has already struck a chord with his immediate audience -- the MLAs in the Kerala assembly.
Twenty-four MLAs have chosen to stick by the veteran leader irrespective of all the bullying and blandishments in the high command's power. Two of them -- both Hindus -- are members of the Antony ministry. (If action is taken against them for supporting Karunakaran's rebel candidate against the official nominees to the Rajya Sabha, the Hindu-non-Hindu ratio in the ministry shall worsen.)
Those 24 MLAs are not enough to bring down the Antony government. But they are more than enough to split the Congress (I) in the assembly. Which in turn will leave the chief minister ever more dependent on the Muslim League and Christian-backed groups. And that, of course, simply offers even more opportunities to take pot-shots at Antony and Sonia Gandhi. Vayalar Ravi, Ramesh Chennithala, and some others are already clamouring for strict disciplinary action against Karunakaran. But the chances of any such thing happening are remote.
Personally, when I look at this situation all I can do is to echo Swami Vivekananda. Readers know that I have no particular liking for the Congress (I) as such, but what is the alternative in Kerala? If the squabbling in the Congress (I) gets out of hand the only real beneficiaries will be the Left Democratic Front. And frankly I don't think my home state can stand another bout of Nayanar-ism! Or, for that matter, for any contrived Hindu-non-Hindu confrontation either...
T V R Shenoy