BJP and NSS keep the ‘Ganesha’ Pot Boiling in Kerala

Neither the RSS nor the NSS had reacted in 2014 when PM Narendra Modi had cited the example of lord Ganesha to claim that ancient Indians knew plastic surgery. But in 2023 both are up in arms

Ernakulam Speaker of the Kerala Assembly A.N. Shamseer; Nair Service Society (NSS) protests in Thiruvananthapuram during the Sabrimala agitation of 2018. (photo courtesy: @Anshaseer/Facebook; IANS)
Ernakulam Speaker of the Kerala Assembly A.N. Shamseer; Nair Service Society (NSS) protests in Thiruvananthapuram during the Sabrimala agitation of 2018. (photo courtesy: @Anshaseer/Facebook; IANS)

Santosh Kumar

What began as a discourse on science versus myth in a Kerala school has snowballed into a major political controversy. While interacting with students at a school in Ernakulam Speaker of the Kerala Assembly A.N. Shamseer questioned the motive of present-day rulers in promoting Hindu mythology as scientific facts.

The Speaker had scoffed at bids to teach that Kauravas of the Mahabharata were born as a result of infertility treatment and plastic surgery was practised in ancient times, citing the example of Lord Ganesha with a human body and an elephant’s head.

State BJP president K. Surendran latched on Shamseer’s comment and claimed that the Speaker had insulted Lord Ganesha. BJP clearly sees it as an opportunity to revive the ‘spirit of the Sabarimala agitation’ and consolidation of Hindu votes prior to the general election.

BJP and BJP Yuva Morcha workers took to the streets in Kerala, with some of them in Kannur threatening to behead Shamseer. A prominent CPM leader retaliated by threatening that if anyone dared to raise his hands against the Speaker, he would end up in the nearest mortuary.

The Left Front government did not find any offence in these slogans despite a standing directive from the Supreme Court to all states and Union territories to file hate speech cases even without any complaint.

The Left Front government’s failure to take action against hate speech spawned several conspiracy theories. Possibly it hoped the issue would blow over; or the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan did not want to offend union home minister Amit Shah. The government however made it a point to beef up the security of P Jayarajan who had threatened to send Morcha workers to the mortuary.

The controversy was stoked with the Nair Service Society (NSS) joining issues a week later. Following RSS leaders who called on the NSS headquarters, which is a well-known known fact, NSS reacted after nine days to say that the statement had hurt Hindu sentiments.

The Sangh Parivar and the Nair Service Society (NSS) are demanding an unconditional apology from Shamseer over the comment on Hindu deity Ganesha. Groups of Nair men and women, including its general secretary G Sukumaran Nair, visited various Ganesha temples in the state as part of their protest last week.

In September 2018, following the Supreme Court order allowing menstruating women entry into the Sabarimala Ayyappa shrine, protests against the ruling had gathered momentum after the NSS took to the streets. The NSS is now threatening to re-enact the same all over.

“Faith is more important than science. Comments by a particular man from a particular community hurt our sentiments. He must apologise,” Sukumaran Nair told reporters after praying at a temple in home town of Changanassery where the organisation is headquartered.  

CPM, which had initially ruled out any apology by the Speaker, appears to be having some second thoughts after the NSS hardened its stand. In the general election in 2019, the Left Front could win only one Lok Sabha seat out of 20 in the state. But the party won over the confidence of the Muslim community during the anti-CAA agitation. The anti-CAA agitation helped CPM win a historic second successive term in office for the first time in the history of the state in the 2021 Assembly elections.

Since then the CPM has been consciously trying to increase its influence among the Muslim community in North Malabar. The party has also been trying to wean away the Indian Union Muslim League from the Congress-led United Democratic Front. The invitation to IUML to join a symposium the party organised in Kozhikode against Uniform Civil Code was a part of that effort. That the IUML spurned the offer is another story.

BJP is hoping to ride on the anti-Muslim sentiment created among the Hindus by the NSS’ agitation. The Nairs have traditionally backed the Congress and the engineered anti-Muslim feeling may not linger for long. Shamseer will be forgiven the moment he apologises which in all probability will happen soon.

The Congress’s fears of a CPM-BJP nexus in creating the controversy may not be totally out of place. Leader of the opposition V D Satheesan of the Congress said that Shamseer’s statement allowed the Sangh Parivar and the BJP to gain some political advantage.

BJP is trying to keep the Ganesha pot boiling and the NSS has decided to explore legal possibilities in case the Speaker refuses to apologise.

BJP state president K Surendran told workers at a party rally not to repeat the ‘past mistakes’. "We were beaten up by the police the last time (Sabarimla agitation) but others got the seats. This time it should not happen."

Clearly Lord Ganesha and Hindu sentiments are not the real issue but polarisation and electoral gains are. 

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