Thiruvananthapuram, Aug. 27: The birthday celebrations are on, but the Congress has messed up a chance to play the perfect host.
An attempt to steal the Janmashtami show from the Sangh parivar appears to have backfired on the Congress in Kerala, with the party’s children’s wing, which had drawn up elaborate plans, “postponing” the launch of the festivities at the last minute.
The official explanation was that state Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala, who was to kick off the celebrations on Sunday, was unavailable.
“The (state) Congress president had to attend an event near the border with Karnataka and requested us to postpone the inauguration. We accepted it,” G.V. Hari, chairman, Jawahar Balajana Vedi, told The Telegraph.
But sources attributed the decision to criticism from sections within the party that felt the Congress’s “secular credentials” might have come under the glare. Hari, too, appeared to inadvertently reveal as much. Asked if a revised date had been fixed, he answered in the negative.
Janmashtami will be celebrated tomorrow.
Sunday’s inaugural ceremony was to be followed by a seminar on the relevance of the Bhagwad Gita. Brochures had already been printed, before the plan was called off.
Hari insisted that the ceremony had only been postponed, but the sources said it had been scrapped following the internal differences that have often displayed religious overtones, with minorities accused of cornering key posts in the party and the party-led UDF government.
The latest development comes in the backdrop of demands that Chennithala, a Hindu, be given a key post in the government, led by Oommen Chandy, a Christian. This was effectively stonewalled by factions loyal to Chandy, with the Muslim League, the largest coalition partner, chipping in with its tacit support.
Had the Jawahar Balajana Vedi gone ahead with the inaugural, it would have been its first, Hari said, adding that the decision was taken at a meeting that was attended among others by its secretary, Padmaja Venugopal, a member of the Congress state committee.
“We have been holding iftars and Christmas carols for many years and some members wondered why we should not add Janmashtami to our calendar. The proposal was welcomed at the meeting,” he said. Venugopal couldn’t be reached for comment.
What Hari wouldn’t say was that the decision was aimed at countering the popularity of the annual Janmashtami bash organised by Balagokulam, a children’s movement that evolved out of a column by the same name in the Sangh’s Malayalam mouthpiece Kesari in the early seventies.
The annual “shobhayatra” (parade) taken out by the group on Janmashtami has blurred religious divides and become a popular event in the state’s festival calendar. Balagokulam state secretary V. Harikumar said 15 lakh children across the state attended the parade last year.
Congress spokesperson M.M. Hassan said he didn’t know what had taken place since the Vedi decided to ring in Janmashtami. “I know the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president was scheduled to inaugurate it and I had also been invited. But I’m out of station and do not know the status,” he said.
A party leader defended the decision to hold the fete, saying even party chief Sonia Gandhi organises iftar meets. He said the party had backed out fearing the Vedi’s decision would add a communal tinge to the faction feud within the party.
The Congress’s decision to abandon the Janmashtami festivities came a day after a critical report appeared in the Malayalam daily Madhyamam, promoted by the Jamaat-e-Islami. The report termed the Vedi’s move “an attempt to saffronise the state Congress”.
“The move, which also had the Lok Sabha polls in mind, was being done in the name of resolving complaints that there was minority domination in the party and government,” the report said.