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Sabarimala women entry ban lifted: CPM stumps opponent by using Supreme Court verdict to join progressive league

The offensive strategy adopted by Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) against the raging protests over the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple has raised eyebrows in political and religious circles in the state.

However, political observers are least surprised by the counter campaign. They have viewed the party’s decision to field its women and youth wings to take on the protestors as part of a clever move by the CPM to derive political capital from the progressive stand it has taken on the issue.

Pilgrams at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Reuters

Pilgrams at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Reuters

While the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has been tasked with the responsibility of driving home the message of gender equality among women, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) has been asked to expose the political game plan behind the protests being spearheaded by the Sangh Parivar outfits, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.

While the AIDWA has already kicked off the campaign with a public rally at Pathanamthitta on Tuesday, the DYFI will be taking to the streets on 13 October. The CPM is also trying to bring its partners in the Left Democratic Front (LDF) into the scene. An emergency meeting of the LDF state committee has been convened on 11 October to discuss the strategy.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had set the ground for the offensive by terming the opposition to the apex court verdict as against the ethos of the secular outlook and culture of equality that the state has imbibed from a series of renaissance movements.

Party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan went a step further and saw seeds of a second liberation struggle against the government in the ganging up of right-wing parties and community organisations against the implementation of the apex court verdict by the party government. Such a gang up by the Congress, NSS and the Catholic Church against educational and agrarian reforms had brought down the first democratically elected communist government in 1957.

Party strategists believe that the campaign would strike a chord with the people since the BJP has been trying to create unrest by unleashing violence. A spate of attacks on Devasom offices in different parts of the state is seen as part of a deliberate attempt by the Sangh Parivar to create trouble. The party chief’s argument evoked immediate support from unexpected quarters.

The backing came from Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, a socio-cultural body of the lower caste Ezhava Hindu community that joined the saffron bandwagon by floating a political party in 2015. Subscribing to Balakrishnan’s view, SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan said that the ongoing protests were an attempt to bring down the LDF government.

“We suspect that the organisations spearheading the present protests are planning to create a second liberation struggle. We will not support this. If it continues, the SNDP will come forward with parallel protests and unmask the forces conspiring against the elected government,” said Natesan.

CPM leaders also hope that the women who are protesting against the Supreme Court verdict now may also finally accept their stand since it is against the discrimination meted out to them by the feudal system. A senior party leader has viewed the women’s upsurge against the verdict as an emotional reaction spurred by religious and political leaders.

Political analysts feel that the CPM may have taken a strong stand on implementing the Supreme Court verdict since it was not worried about its support base among the Hindus. Jacob George, a political analyst based at Thiruvananthapuram, said that the party was not expecting any erosion in their Hindu vote bank as it consists of committed cadres belonging to the lower castes, particularly the Ezhavas.

The Congress had expected a crack in the CPM support base among the Ezhavas when the new political party floated by the SNDP joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP. Contrary to this perception, the alliance cost the Congress more than the CPM in the subsequent elections.

The support extended to the CPM by the SNDP has further emboldened the CPM, which believes that the stand taken by the Congress against the Supreme Court verdict may only benefit the BJP. The party doesn’t mind this since it will benefit them indirectly.

However, the CPM is counting more on the benefit from the backlash of the BJP bid to polarise the Hindu votes from the minority communities, who account for about 45 percent of the state population.

Jacob said that the CPM may cash in on the backlash by highlighting the aggressive Hindutva line of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar and the soft Hindutva approach of the Congress and the UDF among the minorities.

“The campaign may pay political dividend to the LDF since the minority communities, especially the Muslims, have been upset over the steady rise of the BJP in the electoral front. The CPM was able to make inroads into the Muslim belt in Malappuram in the last Assembly election in 2016 by highlighting the UDF’s soft Hindutva line and projecting itself as the protector of minorities,” Jacob told Firstpost.

He said that the LDF had won the recent Chengannur by-election by playing up the Hindutva fears in the minds of minorities, who were apprehensive of the Congress decision to field a hardcore Hindu activist in the election. The Congress went for such a gamble as it found a steady erosion in its traditional Hindu vote bank following the rise of the BJP.

Jacob said that the offensive launched by the CPM against the BJP and the Congress campaign was with an eye on the Lok Sabha election. He said that the government could seek more time to implement the Supreme Court verdict citing the devastation caused by the flood. The plea may not have been rejected by the court since the flood had wreaked heavy damage in Sabarimala itself.

However, the government was not ready to wait as the Supreme Court verdict put both the Congress and the BJP in a dilemma. Both had welcomed the Constitution bench verdict initially. Top leaders of the two parties had maintained that the apex court order was the law of the land and everybody is bound to abide by it.

The BJP president PS Sreedharan had even termed the verdict in tune with his party’s stand for equality in all places of worship. However, he changed the stand later saying that the verdict was against the faith of the devotees and the customs and rituals of the temple.

Same has been the case of the Congress. The leader of the party in the state Assembly Ramesh Chennithala had initially maintained that the Supreme Court order was applicable to everybody and the party too would obey it. But he too took a U-turn later and asked the state and Central governments to nullify the verdict by promulgating an ordinance.

Political observers view this double game by the two parties as a naked attempt to draw political benefit from the issue. “None had expected such a massive upsurge against the verdict, especially from women who are less visible in the political space. The BJP and the Congress saw this as an opportunity to woo them into their fold and consolidate their support base among the Hindus,” said Jacob.

While the Congress backed the women devotees by expressing solidarity with their struggle, the BJP joined hands with them in opposing the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict. Besides supporting the agitation by various Hindu outfits, the party has also launched a long march from Pandalam, which is believed to be the birth place of Lord Ayyappa. to the state secretariat at Thiruvananthapuram.

Apart from this, the Mahila Morcha, the women’s wing of the BJP, will also lend support to various Hindu organizations trying to create a human shield against women who come to Sabarimala for the five-day monthly pooja beginning on 18 October by holding a day-long fast.

Jacob said that the BJP was trying to use the temple issue to the hilt since its attempt to polarise the Hindu votes with its soft Hindutva approach had failed to yield political dividend during elections. The party also saw an opportunity to come close to the NSS, a socio-cultural forum of upper caste Nairs, which is in the forefront of the legal battle and current agitation against the women’s entry into Sabarimala.

The BJP has been trying to woo the NSS into the NDA fold as part of its strategy to bring all Hindu bodies under one platform. While the SNDP, the Ezhava counterpart of the NSS, heeded the call, NSS defied it saying that they did not want a Hindutva tag.

The NSS has been maintaining equidistance from political parties ever since it disbanded its political arm-the National Democratic Party in the late 1990s. An alliance with the NSS, which holds sway over the Nair community, is top in the agenda of the present BJP president, who has close ties with NSS leadership.

The Nair community accounted for about 15 percent of the total population of the state as per the 2011 census. The BJP chief considers the support of NSS vital in achieving the party’s objective of winning 12 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 General Elections.

When the Supreme Court delivered the judgment on 28 September, the main plea of BJP chief to the stakeholders was not to make Sabarimala a conflict zone. However, many fears that the massive build up for a show of strength during the monthly pooja beginning from 17 October may turn Sabarimala into even a war zone.

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2018 18:26 PM

Updated: October 10, 2018 — 8:32 pm
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