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Modi at Narayan Guru Mutt, Kerala

“Although untouchability in social life has come down because of the untiring efforts of our saints, it is increasing in politics.”

On 24 April 2013, BJP leader Narendra Modi addressed the golden jubilee function of Sree Narayana Dharma Mimansa Parishad at Shivgiri Mutt near Thiruvanathapuram. The Kerala Marxists and the Congressmen of that state were opposed to Modi being invited to the Mutt and they demonstrated against him at the airport and at the city centre.

Narendra Modi being invited to the historical Mutt of Narayana Guru is significant in more ways than one. It was natural for the Marxists to oppose it; they saw a threat to their major OBC Ezhava vote base. Narayana Guru was the most important among those spiritual leaders of South India who launched pro-Backward castes’ movements. He was an anti-Brahmanism guru in the league of Mahatma Phule (1827-1890). Narayana Guru (1856-1928), who was affectionately addressed as ‘Nanu Aashan’ was born in the backward Ezhava community. When he launched a movement for the self-respect of the backward castes, the Brahmins opposed him. The backward castes started building their own temples. Brahmins argued that the people of lower castes cannot consecrate Lord Shiva’s idol. Narayana Guru hit by saying that “Our Shiva is different from their Shiva. Their Shiva is a Brahmin; our Shiva is an Ezhava (OBC)”. This was similar to Phule’s response to Brahmin religious hegemony by creating his own Creator God (‘Nirmik’). It may be pertinent to mention here that Ezhavas
constitute 30 per cent of Kerala’s population.

Narayana Guru also encouraged the members of the Ezhava and other backward castes to acquire education. He believed that no person or society can progress without spiritual consciousness. He gave the slogan: “small temple and big knowledge centres (schools-colleges)”. His leading disciple and well-known Malayalam poet N. Kumaran Asan (1873-1924) wrote a poem, addressed to the Brahmins. One line of the poem became a slogan of the backward castes of Kerala. It said, “Change your norms or the norms will change you”. Such was the powerful voice of an OBC poet, half-a-century before the birth of Dalit poetry.

Dr. Ambedkar, Periyar, Lohia and Kanshiram were among the admirers of Sree Narayana Guru. Even Mahatma Gandhi travelled to his ashram to meet him. Top leaders would have given their right arm for an invitation to visit the ashram. The great respect with which Narendra Modi was invited to the ashram’s special programme has rattled the Marxists. It is difficult to say whether Modi was influenced by the Ashram or whether he influenced the ashramites. Only time will answer this question. But those who can sense the faint footsteps of an upcoming social transformation can say without a shade of doubt that the acceptance of Modi by the non-Brahmins of South India as their fellow-traveler is much more significant than the Congress’ victory in Karnataka.

Published in the June 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine

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FP Desk