The following email, which was circulated among some of my Malayalee friends, provides some insight into the appeal of Communism to Indians, and Keralites in particular. This email is particularly relevant in today’s political context with the left parties going berserk in West Bengal. Such events surprise few Keralites, least of all those who have left the state after being hounded by the Left, as noted by blogger Brijesh Nair.

Below are excerpts from the email titled “Krishna – the first Communist”.

“Why Lord Krishna’s life and message make him the father of communism. Long before Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao, a historical figure in India fought against oppression, championed the cause of the poor, denounced religious dogma and empty ritualism, and sought to inspire a righteous and selfless attitude in society.

The basic tenets of communism say that all are equal, and exploiters and oppressors should be severely punished..

The life and message of Krishna reveals that he imbibed, taught and fought for these principles 5,230 years ago. In fact, an objective analysis of the Bhagavad Gita too would reveal that Krishna was a better communist than Karl Marx. One could go so far as to describe him as the real founder of communism!

… he says, ”Sarva dharman parityajya mamekam sharanam vraja” (Drop all the dharma and take refuge in me, ie, in the higher self).

This is really a revolutionary thing. Karl Marx also has said drop the religion, ”Religion is the opium of the masses.” Karl Marx was not aware of Indian spirituality. All that he saw was the blind faith and the authoritarian rule of the religious institutions that existed at that time in Russia, whereas Krishna takes us beyond religion.…I wonder why the communists have not yet owned Krishna. Many times in the Gita, Krishna says, ”Yo mam pasyati sarvatra” (One who sees me in everybody, one who sees oneself in everybody, is the one who sees the truth). This is the basic principle of communism — see everyone as yourself.

But it is the spirit of self-enquiry, the scientific temper in a person, that takes one deeper. Religion stays behind and one moves into a realm of pure humanism or pure divinity — this is the hallmark of Krishna’s teaching.

Many people talk about communism but lead a capitalistic life. However Krishna never did that. He stood for the cause of the poor.

Now communists in Kerala need not feel guilty about going to Guruvayoor and those in Bengal can openly participate in Durga Pooja!”

Mixing religion and economics tends to have unpleasant results, and the worst casualty of this war is language. Thought is shaped by language and going by this email, imagination has died in Kerala. Language has been raped and pillaged so badly in my state so as to make irrelevant the distinction between communism and humanitarianism, capitalism and materialism and most importantly, the line between self-interest and greed.

Allow me to explain. Go back and read the excerpts, but this time, substitute the word “communism” with “humanitarianism”. In Kerala, communism has been particularly adept at shrouding itself as a humanitarian philosophy. It has successfully disguised the economic consequences of policies that favour one portion of the populace over the other. Due to high literacy rates and liberal migration policies in the Middle East, Kerala’s ideological baggage has managed to limit Kerala’s development since the 60’s without the political repercussions that follow economic stagnation as in other parts of India. This is a state with disenfranchised workers. A polity without an economy. A debate without imagination.

Those who’ve read my writing before have probably heard this before, but I feel compelled to draw the line between goals and ideologies once again:

The difference between humanitarianism and communism is that the former is a goal while the latter is an ideology. If communism says, “All are equal”, humanitarianism says “All must have equal access to opportunities in life, despite their differences.” A farmer is not the same as a doctor; they have different skill sets. Yet, they have equal rights to access freedom of movement be it on a working day or a “hartal” day, equal rights to access freedom to educate themselves in the manner they choose be it in a government school or a privately funded school, equal rights to access different markets be they government supply depots or corporate retail houses, and so on and so forth.

Yet, some folks abuse these rights to access opportunities to suppose that it is everyone’s right to enjoy the fruits of those opportunities, regardless of how hard a person works to access them. If you are fine with this perversion, you have to contend with its consequences. And its consequences are dire for two reasons; the world is finite and humans are flawed.

Our resources are scarce – a fact of life that calls for prudence and a mechanism that channels our resources to their most productive use. Every rupee we spend on protesting Saddam Hussein’s death or some “imperialist” power can be more wisely spent on better roads, better health infrastructure, more wildlife sanctuaries etc, everything that Keralites hold near and dear to our welfare.

A friend of mine once said, “Capitalists live on earth; communists dream in heaven”. Again, this quote calls for some clarification. We are not talking about capitalists as communists view them, because the sad fact is that in Kerala, that word has long been hijacked by an ideology that thrives on creating a non-existent enemy. We are not talking about the trappings of wealth, but rather the mechanisms that create and spread wealth in capitalist economies, including the rule of law and free markets. If all humans are “created” equal and humane as communists would have you believe, then life would scarcely require laws and rights to protect. The sad fact though is that humans are prone to bouts of jealousy, greed, anger and violence. Laws and free markets exist precisely to curb and channel those tendencies to good use.

Ben Franklin, who was a deeply religious as well as a scientific thinker, had this to say about the nature of compassion, “God helps them that help themselves.” In other words, promote the welfare of people who deserve it – people who are hard-working, diligent, devoted and thoughtful in life. If you don’t make that distinction, your charity goes to waste. I am reminded of the story of Krishna and his childhood friend, Sudama. Sudama visited Krishna with some puffed rice as a gift as he remembered the food is a favourite of Krishna’s (thoughtfulness and devotion). We all know how that story ended. Have we ever noted such qualities in our politicians and youth activists, communists or otherwise? If you are a humanitarian, rid yourself of those enemies of thought, reason and freedom first.

Post-script: It shocked me later to learn that this email was taken from a column by Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of the Art of Living foundation, in the The New Indian Express. It is a sad day when a widely-proclaimed proponent of human welfare misuses language.

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