THERE IS A FUNNY scene in a 1991 Malayalam movie directed by Sathyan Anthikkad for which the screenplay was written by the talented actor- writer Sreenivasan: a young Communist loses his cool on being dissuaded by an ageing party veteran from getting married. When the mentor insists that the party doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage, the young man says he has seen the old man visit a local temple at dawn on the sly; as a young party worker, he had loyally been following in his leader’s footsteps, his face wrapped in a towel to get a darshan of the deity. The young man is granted his permission to marry rightaway.
Many comrades, especially in Kerala, are closet devotees who live in fear of being seen as believers in something other than Marxism-Leninism. This is despite myriad clarifications by leaders of the stature of the late CPM patriarch EMS Namboodiripad that being pious or religious doesn’t stop anyone from being a full-time member of his party. That was, of course, the widely accepted theoretical position. Yet, in practice, party members and leaders have diligently avoided being seen as offering prayers at any place of worship. This is despite the fact that in India religion and culture overlap to a large extent. But public displays of affection for their favourite gods was seen by Communists as far more embarrassing than even ostentatious displays of wealth. Some of them are spotted with expensive Rolex and Rado watches that don’t make their wrists recoil in shame. Recently, a Marxist minister handling Kerala’s temple portfolio made the bold move of visiting and offering prayers at a place of worship.
In this context, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s visit to Sabarimala temple must come as welcome relief to many Communist ‘believers’ who might feel encouraged to come out of the closet and end their lives of hypocrisy. On past occasions, intra-party tussles have had leaders take photos of their temple-going rivals to tarnish their reputations within the Stalinist confines of the party. All that might be over. Vijayan paid a visit to the temple to take stock of preparations for the pilgrimage season, and for a 72-year-old, he deserves applause for trekking up the 8-km forest path at night, without stopping to rest or drink water. Perhaps that was divine intervention in aid of Marxists who earnestly need to shed silly notions of sin and pray without fear.