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OPINION | Why Sabarimala Row Could be Make or Break for Pinarayi Vijayan

Pinarayi’s enviable success has two contributing factors. The first one was his super flexibility to accommodate the managers of the various vote banks. Secondly, his persona as a strong political figure or the man of the hour.

Muhammed Fakrudheen Ali |

Updated:October 26, 2018, 1:24 PM IST
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OPINION | Why Sabarimala Row Could be Make or Break for Pinarayi Vijayan
File photo of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan.
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Pinarayi Vijayan is a politician of a different kind in the highly ideologically contentious political space of Kerala’s Left. He is a leader of his own terms without any prior models except the doomed icon MV Raghavan, a charismatic Marxist leader who eventually turned on his own party and was expelled. He is an amalgam of Leninist principles and Stalin-inspired practical mind set.

What MV Raghavan lacked was the support of the party cadres who are always driven by ideological moorings instead of realpolitik. Even EMS Namboothiripad, former party general secretary and the first chief minister of Kerala who is well known for political balancing with an ideological tinge, was also not an efficient player in realpolitik. That is why the organizationally weak Indian National Congress (INC) electorally beat the organizationally powerful CPM in the polls every alternate five years.

Congress leaders of the recent past from K Karunakaran to Ommen Chandy were masters of fine balancing in the communally strong Kerala politics. They made Congress-led UDF an umbrella alliance of all caste-based and community-based political and non-political organizations in the state. In every alternative five years they had a golden harvest by this amalgamation. CPM was not successful in building LDF in the same way due to the political dogmas and secular moorings to a large extent.

The first among the CPM leaders to recognize these drawbacks was then leader Raghavan. He argued for a UDF model alliance by incorporating communal organizations like Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Since his proposal was against the official stand of the party he was expelled by the end of 1980s.

Though LDF has long since officially distanced itself from communal organizations like IUML, it had established strong ties with non-political caste and religious based entities like the upper caste NSS (Nair Service Society), the OBC-led SNDP (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam), the Dalit outfit KPMS (Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha), various Muslim outfits and their Christian counterparts.

The previous assembly elections (2016) that helped LDF form the government and Pinarayi Vijayan become the chief minister was occasioned by these newfound friends. Pinarayi was the key player in securing support in favour of the party across the caste and religious spectrum. In that sense he becomes the first ever successful political player of CPM in Kerala’s realpolitik.

Pinarayi’s enviable success has two contributing factors. The first one was his super flexibility to accommodate the managers of the various vote banks. Secondly, his persona as a strong political figure or the man of the hour.

It appears that the Sabarimala issue is going have an impact on these two aspects in different ways. His staunch support to the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala in all probabilities could place him against the influential caste organization, NSS, which was in the forefront in the Supreme Court in defending the traditions of Sabarimala. It is believed that NSS support was very crucial for CPM in winning some important assembly seats in the last election. Recently, the NSS openly supported the LDF candidate from the Christian community in the Chengannur by-election. This election was very crucial for Pinarayi in silencing his critics.

Apart from NSS, a majority of the Hindu population in the state is apparently hurt by the state government’s stand on implementing the SC verdict that allows entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala.

Though the leader of SNDP Vellappally Natesan offered the support in executing the verdict in the beginning, he compromised the stand later on by sensing the mood of the community. His son Thushar Vellappally who is the leader of recently formed BDJS, a political party of SNDP and an ally of NDA, joined BJP in opposing the verdict of Supreme Court on Sabarimala.

So only a section of KPMS led by Punnala Sreekumar (and a minority among the Ezhava and Adivasi communities) is the solace for Pinarayi in supporting the verdict. In that sense the mood of the Hindu community in the state is against the Supreme Court verdict and most of the party cadres belong to the very same section of the population. That means a major section of the supporters of LDF has already turned against the state government to an extent.

This has the potential to spoil the successful balancing act of Pinarayi, which was likely to assure him consecutive term in 2021 otherwise. It may also have an impact on the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. If the electoral prospect of the party goes wrong, the unquestioned leadership of Pinarayi may also be challenged in the CPM.

At the same time, the stand on Sabarimala has the potential to boost Pinarayi's image as a strong party leader among his supporters. The die-hard fans of the CM have an entirely different opinion about the happenings. According to them, the stand on Sabarimala verdict is a strong political statement made as per the partyline, like the legendary land reform initiated by first communist ministry in 1957.

They also argue that Pinarayi can hardly be called “anti-Hindu” considering that he has been consistent in opposing conservatives of all faiths, and point out the strong statements he had made in the past against powerful leaders of Muslim and Christian community.

As CPM state secretary, Pinarayi had taken a firm stand against building a mosque to house the prerequisites of the prophet by the AP fraction of the prevalent Sunni sect in Malabar. He had also taken on the Bishop of diocese of Thamarassery. But both these communities supported LDF in 2016.

Electoral politics has so many factors to play in the crucial hours. It was evident in the last Assembly polls in which Pinarayi was seen as a crusader against Hindutva politics, he was wholeheartedly backed by the minority communities who were once skeptical about him. But, here the difference is in the religious identity of the protesters who are Hindus and they are not that apprehensive about Hindutva politics like the minorities.

(The author is an assistant professor of history and a political analyst. Views are personal)
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