An alleged controversial remark made by a senior CPI(M) leader regarding the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women in Kerala has landed the ruling party in soup with several religious outfits and scholars coming out against it.
As the issue triggered a huge political row, the Marxist party rejected the comment by K Anil Kumar, a state committee member, saying choice of clothing is the fundamental right of an individual and there was no need for the party to express any opinion on that.
The opposition Congress strongly criticized the ruling party and termed his statements as "inappropriate and absurd".
Later in the day, Anil Kumar in a Facebook post said he would uphold his party's stand in the matter.
While speaking at a recent event organised by esSENSE Global, an atheist outfit, Kumar said that it was due to the influence of the Marxist party that the women of the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district had abandoned "thattam", the headscarf.
Irked by his remarks, "Samastha," an influential Sunni scholars' body, said the CPI(M)'s "double standards" have been exposed through this.
Abdusamad Pookkottur, a prominent leader of Samastha, alleged that apostasy was the crux of the Left party and that it was approaching minorities for votes.
IUML leaders K M Shaji and KPA Majeed also joined the scholars' body in denouncing the CPI (M) over Anil Kumar's statement.
In a hard-hitting Facebook post, Shaji, a staunch critic of the Marxist party leadership, alleged that the party has prepared two teams: one to go among rationalists to speak against the believers and another to take part in the meetings of believers and praise them.
He asked the religious community whether they "still want to believe that Communism is innocent."
Majeed, who is also a senior MLA of the IUML, slammed the Left party through his social media handle, saying Anil Kumar's remarks had exposed the real intentions of its leadership.
The IUML leader questioned the rationale behind linking free thinking with the abandonment of the headscarf.
He also alleged that the atheist event, in which the controversial speech was made, was organised by a "Sangh Parivar-sponsored" person.
"Our headscarf-clad children are enough to expose your (CPI-M's) hypocrisy," he added in the FB post.
IUML state general secretary PMA Salam accused the Marxist Party of 'infringing' on religious beliefs and wondered who had abandoned "thattam" in Malappuram.
Even those belonging to the current generation were wearing headscarves, he told reporters in Malappuram.
Meanwhile, an independent LDF MLA and a fellow traveller of CPI (M), K T Jaleel, rejected Anil Kumar's claims and said not wearing "thattam" could not be considered as a sign of progress.
"Presenting personal opinion as that of the party will lead to misunderstanding..," the former minister said in a Facebook post.
The Congress used the opportunity to target the CPI(M) politically on the matter, with senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, V. D
Satheesan condemning the remarks of Anil Kumar, saying what to wear and eat were part of the personal freedom of an individual and no one had the right to dictate their terms.
The statement of the Left leader that the abandonment of the headscarf was an achievement of the CPI (M) was a blatant invasion of the faith and personal freedom of individuals, he said.
"What is the difference between the BJP government, which has banned hijab, and the CPI (M), which views the abandonment of headscarves as a party gain?" Satheesan asked.
With the party leadership facing flak from various quarters, CPI (M) state secretary M V Govindan said what Anil Kumar said was not the opinion or stand of the party.
When reporters asked about the row, he said dressing was the personal right of individuals, which was upheld by the Constitution.
"The party has already made its stand clear on the matter when the hijab row cropped up. There is no need for any person to infringe on such matters, intervene, or raise any criticism against them," Govindan categorically said.
Senior Left leader and LDF Convenor E P Jayarajan also rejected Kumar's remarks and said it was a "mistake".
Dressing was the personal choice of individuals, and the CPI (M) was a party that extended support to it, he said.
In a Facebook post, Anil Kumar said the explanation given by the party secretary was his opinion, and he would uphold the party stand on the issue.
After the CPI(M) "rectified" Anil Kumar's remarks, the BJP accused the CPI(M) of "becoming a slave to organised religious forces."
In a Facebook post, BJP state Chief K Surendran alleged that the party was not bothered about "protocols and principles" when it came to the matter of the vote bank.
Accusing the Left party of having 'double standards' on religious matters, he also took a dig at the CPI(M), saying the party -led government's interference in Sabarimala rituals was a renaissance and Lord Ganesha was a myth for them.
But triple talaq was part of religious beliefs, and the uniform civil code was an encroachment of religious freedom for CPI (M), he added.