Can a Communist believe in God? The answer to this million-yuan question comes from a member of Parliament from Kannur, the Marxist citadel in God's Own Country, Kerala.
Aruvanpalli Puthiyapurakkal Abdullakkutty, the youngest MP from the state, has openly questioned the party and asked it to make its stand clear on religion and faith.
Perhaps for the last few years, Abdullakutty was chewing the cup of agnosticism. Caught in a whirlpool of ideology and existentialism, he set out on a spiritual odyssey. He went and performed the Umra, ruffling many feathers. His next tryst with destiny was Vaitheeswaran temple at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, where he met a Nadi astrologer.
It may have been a moment of epiphany to the firebrand leader, but it was nothing but blasphemy to the party. Sensing the rise of a potential renegade, the CPI-M, it is learnt, may deny him another term for its one-time poster boy.
In a free-wheeling interview with Rajaneesh Vilakudy, Abdullakutty opened up.
You have uttered the unspoken word -- God -- in the Communist-Marxist party.
Yes. There is no problem with it. Being a Communist does not mean that I should not believe in God. Nowhere is it said or written -- be it Marxist-Leninist doctrines or party manifestoes -- that a Communist should be an atheist. Most party cadres are believers.
Religion plays a key role in understanding the social paradigm. I am an ordinary human being, a God-believing Muslim. That is why I went and performed the Umra. That only enhanced my respect for other religions.
In a country like India, where religion has deep roots, it is important for the party to make the stand clear on religion. It is not a question you can shy away from. The party should be open for a debate and then publicly announce a renewed stand. I am proud to say that I am a Communist who believes in God.
The CPI-M does not tolerate such views. Are you not scared or worried about the consequences?
No. I don't think this will affect my political career. I have just expressed what most cadres think and believe.
Making things worse, you wrote an article in a travel magazine, describing your trip to a Nadi astrologer where a pandit reads one's destiny through the thumb -- in Tamil Nadu.
The article was distorted out of proportions by the media, which was totally unneeded. I made the visit out of curiosity and travelled to Thanjavur. Then I shared my experiences with readers. It was meant as just a travelogue. No one should read more into it.
The article was amazingly written. That apart, it is uncommon for a Communist MP -- that too a Muslim -- to visit a Nadi astrologer.
I have said why I went. Thanjavur always attracts two kinds of people -- one to know the future, the other tourists. India's culture is different. So is our ethos. There is myth, fact and fiction. I can't run away from the age-old customs and beliefs. There is no harm in visiting such places. But I repeat -- it was pure curiosity that took me there.
But you wanted to know your date of birth. (He did not know his exact date). Were you convinced after the visit?
Yes, it was an enlightening experience. It was a search for destiny. Whatever they said was almost true. Out of nowhere, an astrologer came with a scripture -- written in ancient Tamil -- and read out all details about my date of birth, including my star. I was stunned. The real shocker came next. The pandit asked me if I was an MLA or MP. Such shockers kept coming. Then came another stunner, "You are not a Hindu and you are an atheist. Neither do you believe in Nadi astrology." I could not believe myself. Then he started narrating tales from the past, present and future.
It is said that details of all human beings were written by sages such as Vashishta, Agastya, Bhrigu and recorded at the Vaitheeswaran Kovil. It was a revelation. A curious mind left with a contended heart.
But your political future may be in for trouble. The CP1-M -- especially in Kerala -- has a history of expelling leaders. There is talk that you won't be a party candidate again.
(Is silent for a minute) It's the party's choice. Today's hapless children are tomorrow's idols. That is what former Kerala chief minister Achutha Menon said about politics. If the party wants me as an MLA or MP, I will be happy to carry out my duty. But tomorrow, if it decides against my candidacy, I will accept it and work as an ordinary party worker.
Only a Communist MP can talk like this
Yes, that is what I meant. A real Communist is never after any ceremonial posts. The party is supreme.
You have also mentioned that things would have been different had the late EMS Namboodirippadu was alive.
Yes, EMS had clear-cut ideas about the whole issue. He was one who vociferously opposed the concept of atheism among party members. He said the Kerala model of atheism was defective and religion could be used as a liberating force. He exhorted the party to work collectively -- that is believers and agnostics.
What was EMS's contribution?
It was EMS who opened the doors to minority communities in Kerala -- be it Christians or Muslims. It was his vision and planning that they felt at home in the party. There was a time when the CPM was alien to minorities. He knew the importance of religion.
In 1967, he allowed three Muslim League ministers to attend the swearing-in ceremony with their Muslim caps on. Even the Congress -- the so-called ally of minorities -- did not allow it. Thus, he slowly opened up the Communist party to Muslims and other sections.
You had earlier invited the party's wrath for having opposed hartals -- the CPI-M's most effective tool?
Yes. Let us not talk about hartals. The party has censured me in public for the comments.
But what did you say?
Hartals are a hindrance to the state's development. We have had enough. Both the parties -- the Left and the Congress -- are culprits. If they don't stop such activities, investments will never flow into the state. It was an advice which I still believe in.
How do you assess the state of party affairs in Kerala? It is torn between two factions -- one led by Chief Minister Achuthanandan and the other by party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Interestingly, the party insists it is a media creation.
To an extent, there are probems. Rather, there are different of opinions. The politburo itself has found out that and punished the leaders. Achuthanandan is the most experienced Communist leader in the country now. That experience is invaluable. Pinarayi is a dynamic party leader, who has great leadership qualities. Let me put this way. Had they worked in perfect harmony, it could have been an extraordinary tenure for the government.
Your constituency Kannur is widely described as one of the most violent places in the country. Do you agree?
Yes, to an extent. It is not a new development. It has a long history of violence. Social scientists have done studies and found out various problems behind the factors. There is no point in involving a blame game, listing out who is the culprit and who is not. It is not the time to do post-mortem, but to do soul-searching. Everyone should work towards a peaceful place. Having said that, if you go by the number of murders in Kerala, then the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, is the most violent place. That is beyond doubt.
Muslims have increasingly become suspects across the world on terror charges. Even in India. What do you feel?
Terrorism is a global scourge. There has always been terror in every part, but in different forms, propagated by different groups. India, too, suffered. Oppression and subjugation lead to revolt. Khalistani rebels splattered blood in Punjab's five rivers. In India, it is Islamic terror that has found its roots now. I believe it is the backlash of the Gujarat riots.
Bernard Shaw's description of Islam -- the best religion with the worst followers -- applies to all religions.
Despite the recent blots, are not Muslims safe in India?
Yes, if you generalise. There is no doubt Muslims are at home in India. And in Kerala, they are much safer compared to other states.
Finally, how do you look back at your two tenures as MP?
I look back at my record with pride. I am happy to have spent the Rs 2-crore MP fund a year to the core in both terms. In fact, I spent the maximum amount for the constituency in the entire country in my first term. It was a record. In 1999, I gave free computers to all government schools in the district. That too with Linux -- it was not as popular as it is now -- operation system. I had installed solar-powered street lights all across my village, from where the panchayat saved a good amount of money which could be allotted to other development projects.
The biggest achievement was the Kannur airport -- the fourth one in Kerala. It was huge task as I had to battle intense lobbying from the Kozhikode and Mangalore airports. It was during my tenure the Azheekkal port was included in the National Maritime Development Programme. There are too many local development schemes to be listed out.