The only thing Prime Minister Modi talks about is himself in Kerala and the other NDA leaders only talk about Sabarimala, faith and the management of the temple. In his recent rally in Pathanamthitta, BJP president Amit Shah made it about all believers, which didn’t cut ice with anyone in the constituency with a high number of minorities.
Massive protests had erupted in the state after the ruling CPM-led LDF government decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups to enter the hill shrine.
The Left government’s stand did give an impetus to the saffron party in the state. But, it was neutralised by the Congress-led UDF’s stand and this decision to stand with the conservative faithful irked many. “That might just have saved Kerala from saffronisation. BJP and NDA have made a strong push in the state threatening the two-fronts in Kerala. UDF’s stand of not allowing anyone to interfere with religious practices has helped them. BJP took two countering stands and people have seen through their lie. They unleashed violence in the hope of garnering votes, but that hasn’t gone down too well, instead many have tilted towards the UDF because of it,” says V Gopakumar, a senior journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram.
“Sabarimala is a matter of faith. I can’t vote based on that. There was far too much violence. We need people who will help us and work for us. During the floods, no one came to help us. There were Muslim families in our neighbourhood and they were the only ones who came to our rescue. How can I vote for a government that is against them? We need a secular government,” explains Mini, a 43-year-old Hindu woman from Theveli near Mannar, which falls under Pathanamthitta constituency.
Sreekumaran from Alathur, in north Palakkad concurs. “BJP cannot convert violence into votes. Sabarimala is an emotive issue, but people of Kerala will not vote based on that. While the Left acted in haste, they were simply enforcing a Supreme Court directive,” contends the 40-year-old Nair man, who works in a bakery in Thiruvalla bus stand.
Rajesh, who drives an autorickshaw in the state capital, said, “What is the difference between the Left and BJP? Both indulge in violence and twist religious issues to suit themselves; the only difference is BJP is upfront about it. Everyone is hoping to make Sabarimala an issue. But it is a matter of faith, not governance. You elect people for governing you. I speak to many people who ride this auto, and many are against using faith as a matter of governance.”
“The Sabarimala issue confounded all political parties. Both the RSS and the BJP had expressed themselves in favour of entry of women of all ages in the shrine. The BJP changed its stance sensing an opportunity to consolidate Hindu votes in its favour, more or less the way it used the Ayodhya issue. The Congress did a similar somersault. Although Rahul Gandhi had welcomed the Supreme Court judgment, he allowed the state party to take a different line, apparently sharing its fear that the BJP agitation would cut into its Hindu “upper” caste votes,” says BRP Bhaskar, senior journalist and political analyst.
While the case was before the apex court, the UDF government had favoured continuance of the ban on entry of women of menstruating age but the LDF government wanted the ban to go. When it became evident that the BJP was determined to exploit the issue, with a view to softening its likely impact on its supporters, the LDF government initially allowed the Devaswom Board, which is now under its control, to seek review of SC judgment. It later decided to stand by its earlier position and root its support for women’s entry in the traditions of the Kerala Renaissance, explains Bhaskar.
“There is a strong undercurrent of conservatism in Kerala society. The BJP was, therefore not wrong in sensing a golden opportunity. But it squandered away that opportunity by leaving the leadership of the agitation to lumpen RSS elements who turned it into an obscene and violent one,” emphasises Bhaskar.
“Sabarimala is an issue, but people will not vote based on it. Politics is one thing and religion another. BJP will only be able to swing 10% of the votes,” contends 25-year-old Ajit P, who constituency is Pathanamthitta.
Martin Joseph from Thiruvananthapuram says that jobs and lack of economic opportunities are the issues. “BJP attempted to make Sabarimala a political issue, the Left government took initiative for the Women’s wall. Both are trying to use it for their political advantage. Why will anyone be fooled. No one wants a government built on the blood of the people. Such a government will not last as they will not look after the people. Governments are required to do that,” says Joseph.
Agreeing with it is Bhaskar. “It is rarely that an election gets reduced to a one-issue affair. Large sections of Kerala’s voters are committed to either the Congress (and its UDF allies) or to the CPI-M (and its LDF allies). It is a small section that switches from one front to the other that determines the outcome of the election. All three sections are essentially conditioned by political thought, and the emotive element of the Sabarimala issue was not strong enough to override long-standing political loyalties based on personal or group considerations.”