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Narayana Guru - God or just a great social reformer?

K.P.M. Basheer
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Is Sri Narayana Guru God or a just a great social reformer? Does he belong only to the Ezhava community or to the entire humanity?

A row has erupted over CPI(M)’s Muvattupuzha municipal chairman U.R. Babu’s alleged reference to the Guru as a godman, with the SNDP Yogam calling upon the CPI(M) leadership to take strong action against him.

The Yogam and other Ezhava community organisations have taken out protest rallies and made strong statements condemning Mr. Babu. The SNDP unions in Ernakulam district are planning to hold a protest meeting and rally at Muvattupuzha on November 21, while Mr. Babu has denied having denigrated the Guru or referred to him as ‘godman.’

The U. R. Babu episode comes in just a few weeks after the Ernakulam district Congress-I president V. J. Paulose allegedly made certain ‘derogatory’ remarks about the Guru.

Mr. Paulose wriggled out by making several public apologies and a personal apology to the Yogam general secretary Vellapally Natesan. Mr. Natesan had recently clarified that the Guru was God and the Ezhava community worshipped him as such .

The Supreme Court had on November 1 held as unconstitutional the practice of elected representatives taking oath in the name of ‘godmen’ and the Court had wondered whether the Guru was God.

CPI(M)’s view

Finding the protest snowballing, the CPI(M) district committee on November 14 came out with a statement claiming that the controversy was aimed to tarnish the party’s image and that the party had always held the Guru in high esteem. It said the party revered him as a social reformer and one of the leaders of Kerala’s renaissance movement. “The Communists are well aware of the Guru’s greatness,” it said. Ezhavas constitute a sizeable section of the CPI(M) cadres.

“It is a malicious campaign against me and the party,” Mr. Babu told The Hindu . “I have never used the word ‘godman’ to describe the Guru whom I respect as a great social reformer.”

He alleged that certain people, including those expelled from the party, were behind the vicious campaign against him. Over 50 people who had attended the meeting at which he spoke had written to the Muvattupuzha taluk SNDP union saying that he had not called the Guru a godman.

Mr. Babu, who is also a member of the CPI(M)’s Muvattupuzha local committee, said the meeting was held at the Muvattupuzha town branch of the party to recall the party’s role in the fight against superstitions, feudalism and casteism.

Such ‘renaissance sadassus’ were held at all branches in response to a call by the party leadership. In his talk, he had referred to the increasing clout of godmen and godwomen, ‘like Amritanandamayi and Ravi Shankar.’ “But, I never referred to the Guru as a godman,” he said. He hinted that the ‘false propaganda’ was the handiwork of certain enemies of the CPI(M) and a local newspaper reporter.’

‘He is God to us’

Tushar Vellappally, vice-president of the SNDP Yogam, told The Hindu the Ezhava community worshipped the Guru as God and hence describing him as godman amounted to insulting the community. He claimed that the Guru had performed several miracles in his lifetime, including giving eyesight to the blind and healing the sick. The intellectuals in Kerala had erred in portraying him as just a social reformer. “The community cannot forgive someone who calls the Guru a godman,” he said. “Would these people refer to Jesus Christ and Mohammed Nabi as godmen as well?” he said.

K. N. Raveendranath, CPI(M) ideologue and State president of the CITU, said the Communist movement always considered the Guru as a great social reformer and one of the top renaissance leaders in the State. His reform zeal was not confined to the Ezhava community; his appeal was across cast and religious boundaries. “In fact, the Guru’s contributions to social reform, abolition of cast structures and demolishing superstitious practices in Kerala has not been sufficiently appreciated at the national level,” Mr. Raveendranath told The Hindu .

“Unlike Ayyankali, who worked for the liberation of the untouchables, and V.T. Bhattathirippad, who struggled to reform the Namboodiris, the Guru’s teachings influenced all the castes and communities in Kerala,” he said.

CPI(M) says it holds the Guru in high esteem. The party reveres him as a social reformer and one of the leaders of Kerala’s renaissance movement.

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