Though the BJP has made its presence felt in Kerala by being in the forefront of the agitation, it is certain that the party may have to wait for decades before harvesting electoral dividends
The agitation against September 28, 2018, Supreme Court verdict quashing the ban on the entry of women of childbearing age into the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala will come to an end on Tuesday (for the time being) when the doors of the sanctum sanctorum would be closed after this year’s festival season.
We do not like the idea of men worshipping at Attukal Devi Temple during the annual festival. It is known as women’s Sabarimala,” said Bindu
Though Kerala and parts of South India witnessed massive agitation by devotees, especially women, against the Supreme Court order, it has to be said that the protests were by and large peaceful except for two fatal incidents. An Ayyappa devotee immolated himself at Thiruvananthapuram while another devotee was killed in stone pelting by alleged CPI-M workers at Pandalam.
What stood out in the four months-long standoff between the CPI-M led Kerala Government and the devotees of Lord Ayyappa was the consistent determination of the latter who refused to budge in spite of the violent police action unleashed by a partisan police force owing allegiance not to the Indian Constitution but to the AKG Centre at Thiruvananthapuram, the headquarters of the CPI-M.
Not a single woman devotee turned up at Sabarimala other than activists like Rehna Fatima, Bindu Ammini, Kanaka Durga, all foot soldiers of the Maoists and self-proclaimed atheists who were provided police security by the Kerala Government with the intention to break the morale of the devotees. But the determination of the devotees won the day. “None of us will go to Sabarimala as we are all united and unanimous in our stance that customs and traditions should never be violated at the holy shrine,” said Jisha R Das, a young activist of Tapasya, Kerala’s biggest and oldest socio-cultural organisation. She said thousands of devotees across the State have taken a vow not to worship at Sabarimala till they cross the age of 50, the mandatory age limit prescribed by the Sasthras.
Jisha is not the only one woman who spoke like this. Whether it be Pramila Naik of Kasaragod or Bindu Sajiv of Pathanamthitta “The rules and traditions are of paramount importance. We do not like the idea of men worshipping at Attukal Devi Temple during the annual festival. It is known as women’s Sabarimala,” said Bindu.
The important point which has been overlooked by the CPI-M in its bid to project itself as a secular and revolutionary entity was the lack of infrastructure to accommodate women devotees at the holy shrine in the dense forest
What was visible and discernible during the agitation at Sabarimala was the live images of the destruction of the CPI-M. The Janam TV, a satellite news channel owned by a supporter of the RSS beamed live pictures from all over the State as well as many parts of north India during its Jana Sabha programmes which were the live telecast of the CPI-M coming down like a pack of cards. While the top leader of the party ran away from these discussions because of their inability to answer the queries by the devotees, hundreds of CPI-M activists declared “Live” that they were bidding goodbye to the party with which they were associated for decades.
The CPI-M activists who made it to the discussions tried to drive home the point that they were for gender equality and were against discrimination of any kind. But they were tongue-tied when women participants asked them about the CPI-M’s opposition against the Bill banning Triple Talaq and also the party’s stance on Muslim women’s demand for the right to worship in mosques. The comrades made a hasty retreat when asked about the support given by the party to Franco Mulacken, the Bishop of Jalandhar against whom 18 nuns gave petitions alleging rape and sexual abuse.
The intransigent attitude of the CPI-M in breaking the centuries-old tradition of not allowing women devotees in the holy shrine continues to be enmeshed in mystery. There are strong reports in the vernacular media that Pinarayi Vijayan, the Marxist chief minister, wants the sanctum of the holy shrine to be kept open for 365 days to make the temple a money spinner. Janmabhumi, the official mouthpiece of the BJP had carried a scoop on Vijayan’s instruction to the Travancore Devaswam Board, the government department that manages the administrative works of the temple, to keep the temple doors open for all days so that the temple’s income would increase manifold.
But Vijayan in his enthusiasm to earn the sobriquet of the most secular politician in the country failed to take into account the important point that Sabarimala Temple was unique because of the fact that it was the only shrine in the country situated in a dense forest and atop a hill. The important point which has been overlooked by the CPI-M in its bid to project itself as a secular and revolutionary entity was the lack of infrastructure to accommodate women devotees at the holy shrine in the dense forest, pointed out C R Radhakrishnan Nair, former deputy commissioner, Inspection Wing of the TDB. “There are no basic facilities, sanitation and toilet arrangements and even a place for the women to stay atop the shrine. This means that there is no safety and security system in place to facilitate entry of women devotees at Sabarimala. One cannot expect the police to provide individual or group security to women who make it to the shrine,” said Nair, who worked with the TDB for more than 32 years.
The BJP in Kerala has no effective leaders to exploit the space created by the departure of the CPI-M in the electoral battle
He said the shrine is visited by 1, 50,000 devotees every day. “Many times, this figure cross the 2 lakh mark. But we do not have toilet facilities for even one-twentieth of the devotees. Then how is it possible for women devotees to have a trouble-free darshan in the shrine,” said Nair.
Nair, who knows Sabarimala like the back of his hand said though he was against the entry of women in the 10-50 age group in the temple, he agrees the intention of the Marxist government to throw open the temple doors to them. “But they should build the infrastructure to accommodate the women devotees. The safety and security of all women should be ensured by the government. Though women above the age group of 50 make it to the temple, they do so only in the company of their parents/husbands/children. Each woman should be able to come to the sanctum alone and offer their prayers without any fear,” said Nair.
He pointed out that the present stand-off has resulted in a fall in the income of the temple. “The annual revenue at Sabarimala used to be Rs 300 crore every year. But this year’s festival has yielded just Rs 100 crore and there is no possibility of it reaching anywhere near the Rs 300 crore mark. This is a disturbing signal,” said Nair.
While Ayyappa Jyothi, staged by the Sabarimala Action Committee late December 2018 turned out to be a big success, the Women’s Wall organised by the CPI-M on January 1 fell flat. Though the CPI-M left no stone unturned to make the wall a Global Event, the wall was left with many breaches and gaps throughout its route from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram.
Though the BJP has made its presence felt in Kerala by being in the forefront of the agitation, it is certain that the party may have to wait for decades before harvesting electoral dividends. The CPI-M would have to pay heavily for its anti-Hindutva stance in the upcoming election to the Lok Sabha. But the winner in all probability would be the UDF led by the Congress. The words of Oommen Chandi, former chief minister is an indication in this direction.
“The previous United Democratic Front government which ruled the State during 2011 to 2016 in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court had stated that the move to allow women in Sabarimala Temple was not in public interest. We are of the view that all religious denominations enjoy Constitutional rights to administer their places of worship and the government should not meddle with such rights. But the CPI-M government which succeeded us called back that affidavit and submitted another one stating that women should be allowed at Sabarimala,” said Chandi.
The BJP in Kerala has no effective leaders to exploit the space created by the departure of the CPI-M in the electoral battle. “The BJP has to blame itself for the state of affairs in Kerala. The party does not have a leader with mass appeal other than Kummanam Rajasekharan (who has been kicked upstairs as Governor of Mizoram) and to a certain extent K Surendran,” said most of the political commentators based in Kerala.
What is going to happen is that the Congress would get the advantage from the weakening of the CPI-M. “The Congress High Command would project Ramesh Chennithala as the chief ministerial candidate. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandi is being fielded either from Idukki or Kottayam as Lok Sabha candidate so that Chennithala would get a free hand in revamping the party apparatus before the next Assembly election in 2021,” said a senior KPCC leader based at Thiruvananthapuram.
What ails the BJP ion Kerala? Watch this space soon.
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