From deluge to Lord Ayyappa, LDF staves off Opposition
If the floods united the state to fight nature’s fury, the right of women’s entry into Sabarimala has divided the state, both to the advantage of the ruling LDF and CPM.
If in August it was the deluge that helped the Left Front government in Kerala weather all political storms, now it is Lord Ayyappa who has come to the rescue of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPM. Otherwise, how can one explain the happenings in the southern state before the sky opened up three months back and at present? If the floods united the state to fight nature’s fury, the right of young women’s entry into the Sabarimala shrine as per a Supreme Court directive has divided the state, both to the advantage of the ruling LDF and the CPM. All contentious issues such as political murders, police atrocities and even the farmers’ struggle in Kannur were given a go-by in the immediate aftermath of the floods. The Opposition, that used to depict Vijayan as an autocrat, were singing paeans for the CM and his efforts in rebuilding a new Kerala. Then, of course, whoever dared to question Vijayan or the government’s motives were branded as those against the development of the state. So effective was the weapon that even BJP, which has mastered the art at the Centre, dared not question the LDF. The less said about the Congress the better. Even a matter such as grave human error in managing the dams that added to the plight of thousands was forgotten. So also the failure of the government in implementing post-flood relief works. Thousands are still deprived of their due share of relief. Bland rhetoric on new Kerala prevailed. The party and the government successfully turned the focus on the Centre’s bias against the Left-ruled state whenever uncomfortable questions were raised at home. The Centre’s refusal to allow state ministers to visit foreign countries en masse to raise rehabilitation funds was one such.
When the SC ruling on Sabarimala was delivered, the ideal situation for the government was to allow the law to take its own course. Instead of allowing the Devaswom Board to file a review petition, the state government was in a tearing hurry to implement the court order. The CPM, which has questioned every single court ruling that went against the party in the country, suddenly re- alised how important constitutionally for the government it was to allow women enter the shrine at the earliest. Remember this is the same government which spent lakhs of public money going for a review petition in the Supreme Court against the reinstatement of an IPS officer who was unwilling to be subservient to the party. But in the case of Sabarimala, the party saw a political wild card, but played it terribly badly. It failed to read the game plan of the BJP and the Hindu forces aligned with it, which now has landed the government in a real mess. In order to get out of the “padmavyuha”, the government and the party are blaming everyone else with “playing politics” by dividing the people of the state in the name of Lord Ayyappa. Both Congress and BJP have started campaign yatras in protest against the government stand on women’s entry into Sabarimala. While the BJP yatra is to “protect” the temple’s supposedly age-old traditions and rituals, meaning not “violating” Lord Ayyappa’s celibacy by allowing women inside the temple, curiously the Congress yatra is against the “politicisation” of Sabari- mala issue by CPM and BJP. The CPM, however, is trying to make out that the Congress is with the BJP on the issue. “Wait to see where both yatras would become one,” Pinarayi Vijayan has observed sarcastically.
Though round one seems to have gone the BJP way, the CPM and the government have regained lost ground. BJP and its leadership to a very large extent stand exposed. Many of the actions by party members in the guise of devotees around the sanctum sanctorum have not gone down well with the public. A general feeling that the agitation is not about women’s entry or Lord Ayyappa’s celibacy but about political gains is fast gaining currency. BJP state president P. S. Sreedharan Pillai’s open confession to the same has only added credence to it. Hence organisations such as the Nair Service Society which had mobilised women in large numbers initially are now having second thoughts about being seen along with the BJP. It is very unlikely that the government will go all out as was the case in the first phase to make some women enter the shrine. The CPM after the initial setback has now redrawn its political moves. It hopes to convince those sections within the Hindu community, perhaps the Ezhavas and other lower castes, that the resistance against women is an upper caste ploy by the BJP to deprive them of their legitimate share of the Sabarimala bounty. Already there is some mobilisation of Adivasis to whom Lord Ayyappa’s roots are attrib- uted to. While Congress has lost face in the whole drama surrounding Lord Ayyappa, BJP will be hoping the government blunders once again by letting loose the police force which ultimately can lead to violence in the hills. The coming Mandala puja season beginning 17 November and ending on 27 December will not only be crucial for the state government and other stakeholders, including political players, but also the unity of the state. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM will be hoping that their stand on the unity of the state will help them gain in the 2019 general elections. That way no one can deny the fact that Lord Ayyappa, tragically or not, has become an instrument of vote bank worth investing in, in God’s own country.