With Ramayanam and Rama at the heart of a heated political debate raging across the country, a new book on them is being readied in Kerala. The author of this new piece may surprise many, but to him, the book is a natural extension of the time we all live in.
According to Communist Party of India leader Pannyan Raveendran, his book is not another interpretation or reiteration of the Ramayanam. It is to make sure that people understand what makes Ramayanam different from other literature. “As far as I have read, there are none like Rama in Indian literature. While he was the rightful heir to his kingdom, his father, unwillingly, had to ask Rama to step down and go to the forest for 14 years. Even after facing such a disastrous fate, Rama still held strong, he said, adding that it was only one among his trials.
Another event that proves Rama’s character was when he had to listen to his people and abandon Sita. According to the communist leader, Rama had to abandon his pregnant wife unwillingly. Raveendran said, “When Rama’s subjects doubted Sita’s faithfulness, despite the latter’s trial by fire, he had only two choices in front of him. Either ignore his subjects or abandon her. However, being the king that he was, he had to unwillingly choose the latter. Ignoring his subjects was not part of the royal etiquette.”
While, Raveendran’s timing in constructing Rama in the modern political atmosphere is suspect, especially because of the allegations that the communist leader might be trying to access the vote share that the BJP-RSS holds. However, he denies the claims and says, “Ramayanam is not BJP or RSS’ property because the epic is a part of the Indian tradition. And it belongs to Indians — that includes Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and all the other religious identities in the nation.”
The politicisation surrounding Ramayana had begun a long time ago, and it picked up pace and space after the BJP government ascended to power in the Centre. When religious claims were considered “undemocratic” or “antithetical” to the secular ideas of India, BJP had created an atmosphere where these claims not only became normal but pulled votes. Ever since then, political experts had seen the same behaviour being exhibited by parties that didn’t typically engage in such politics.
In the modern era, Communist parties have seen moving to religious monologues. Two years ago, the party had faced flak for observing Ramayana month. However, the party and its office bearers had rubbished the claims, saying that another organisation (with left-leaning policies and left academicians) was conducting the event. In the same instance, the members of the organisation claimed that they were doing it to educate the kids about Ramayana separate from the RSS narrative.
While the party tried to stay away, they couldn’t keep Ramayana away from them. Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran and Public Works Minister G Sudhakaran had positive notions about Ramayana. Surendran had said that Ramayana is a guide to life, understanding family dynamics, and women empowerment. While Sudhakaran had said that Ramayana is full of politics and political insights, modern-day politicians have much to learn from the epic.
While the religious commentary is not part of the communist dialectics in the Indian context, Pannyan Raveendran explains that Ramayana transcends a religious notion. He says, “The events as mentioned in Ramayana happened aeons before the birth of religion. If so then how can it be part of a religious narrative when it obviously transcends the latter? Thus Ramayana and Mahabharata is part of the Indian tradition and history and not BJP’s political narrative.”
Moreover, he adds that following Ramayana is not an RSS ideologue. “Kerala observes Ramayana month every year, and thousands of people participate in it. Are they all BJP or RSS members?” he asks. To add to it, Chadayamangalam MLA and CPI leader Mullakkara Ratnakaran had engaged in a seven-day spiritual discourse on Mahabharata as part of the Surya Festival. He had clarified that the humane element in the epic is what pulled him to Mahabharata.
Raveendran notes that India is a secular country and in a secular country all texts — Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bible, and Quran — deserves equal status. He adds that the debate over Ramayana, and which party has a right over it has been manufactured by the BJP to stay relevant. Reading and understanding Ramayana in the public sphere is not equivalent to mixing the secular fabric of the nation with Hinduism. While the senior political leader makes sensible claims, coming from a communist, those are odd words and times indeed.