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OPINION | Politics Brews in Kerala Over Implementing Sabarimala Verdict

File photo of Sabarimala temple. (Image: Reuters)

File photo of Sabarimala temple. (Image: Reuters)

The state has witnessed sporadic protests since the SC order and the CPM-led state government’s uncompromising stand on implementing the verdict has now opened the door for extreme Hindutva outfits to barge in.

Achyuth Punnekat

The Supreme Court laid down clear directions allowing entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, a decision welcomed by political parties of all spectrum – from the Left to the Right.

But in Kerala, the decision hasn’t gone down well with a significant section of Ayyappa devotees. The state has witnessed sporadic protests since the SC order and the CPM-led state government’s uncompromising stand on implementing the verdict has now opened the door for extreme Hindutva outfits to barge in.

BJP, which had tacitly backed the Supreme Court decision, has now done a complete U-turn fashioning itself the ‘voice of Kerala’s Hindus’.

On Tuesday, a large number of protestors were gathered at Pandalam where the erstwhile royal family, which has deep links with the Sabarimala temple, is leading a prayer meeting.

In Palakkad, the national highway saw a blockade by Pravin Togadia’s outfit called the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad. Its rival the VHP is already backing protests across the state, while the BJP’s youth wing Yuva Morcha has threatened statewide agitation from October 3.

Monday saw the arrest of a large number activists in Nagercoil, in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. A man who threatened self-immolation was arrested from Kochi. Protests are planned in Hyderabad too. If WhatsApp messages and Facebook posts doing the rounds are any measure, it is evident the mood of the population does not have a smiley face.

The state government is right in saying that it has no other choice but to enforce the court order. However, it has made little effort to build consensus on implementing that order. Instead, plans are already afoot to build special toilets, bathing facilities and deploying women police officers at Sannidhanam.

On Monday after a meeting chaired by the CM, the message was aired loud and clear. “We will ensure all measures are taken to welcome women devotees when the temple opens on October 16," said Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran.

Voices of doubt raised within the party has been silenced. Sources say Travancore Devaswom Board chief and CPM leader A Padma Kumar earned the displeasure of the Chief Minister for hinting at filing a review petition in the apex court. Padma Kumar was conspicuously absent from Monday’s meeting, while the TDB soon came out with a statement that it has not taken a decision on filing that review petition. Oblivious to the bad press his government faces, Chief Minister Vijayan seems to have decided to brazen it out.

BJP cannot claim unity in thought, but it certainly can do so when it comes to action. Despite its new found piety towards Lord Ayyappa, earlier some high profile leaders like K Surendran had publicly toed the RSS line that women’s entry should be allowed. But now, the party chief Sreedharan Pillai seems committed to an anti-women’s entry stand. Even Surendran has changed his spots. BJP has been successful in turning the conversation away from its own ideological confusion, to focus attention on how the CPM is mishandling the temple conundrum.

The Congress has declined to take a strong stand on the issue despite some leaders like Working President K Sudhakaran, a strongman in the politically sensitive North, being an open critic of women’s entry. For the moment, the party has taken refuge in putting the onus on the Left government to either file a review petition or bring an ordinance to overturn the verdict. In doing so, the party has rendered itself less relevant in this ideological fight of Left versus Right.

Social media intellectuals continue to address the Sabarimala question as one of women’s liberation. But it’s evident the conversation has moved on from one on gender-equality to one about politics. The question is no longer about doing right by the women devotees of Ayyappa, but about addressing worries of the Hindu voters of Kerala. It could very well snowball into an issue that breaks down the caste-barriers that dictate politics of Kerala. Rival outfits, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam and the Nair Service Society, suddenly find themselves on the same side. The Sangh’s dream of a united Hindu voter base may not remain unachievable after all.

(Views are personal)

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