Thiruvananthapuram; As the electorate in Kerala queue up to cast their vote on Tuesday, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether and how will the Sabarimala temple controversy impact their decision.
Since September 28 last year, when the Supreme Court ordered the shrine to open its doors to all women, the state has been torn between Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left government firm on implementing the order and the Hindutva brigade led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) adamant on protecting its sacred traditions and customs.
The situation worsened early this year, after the state police managed to get two women, from the hitherto banned age group, inside the temple for a darshan.
Soon after the announcement of the election dates, the state’s chief electoral officer Teeka Ram Meena came under fire from the Centre after he warned political parties, at his first press conference, against using the Sabarimala issue to seek votes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself brought up the issue at a rally in Kozhikode, and so did BJP President Amit Shah, who has been using it extensively in his campaign.
Not willing to be labelled “anti-Hindu”, the Congress too maintained a soft approach on the apex court verdict. After casting his vote in Vadakara, State Congress President Mullapally Ramachandran said, “Our stand on the controversy has always been the same. Faith and traditions should be protected and must never be used for politics.”
However, the Ezhava and the Nair communities that make up 54 per cent of Kerala’s 18.2 million Hindus (88,03,000 men and 94,79,000 women) hold diametrical views on the Sabarimala issue.
Nair Service Society (NSS) General Secretary G. Sukumaran Nair, who voted in Kottayam district, said: “I am sure people will cast their votes realistically, so that democracy triumphs. We believe that the government is responsible for protecting faith and traditions of a state.
“But here the state government acted hastily to implement the Supreme Court order. We have not given any directive to our community in this regard. But this issue will affect the outcome of the elections, to a certain extent,” said Nair.
Ezhava socio-cultural body — Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam General Secretary Vellapally Natesan told IANS that Sabarimala was an issue only in certain pockets and may not have a pan-Kerala impact.
“We (SNDP) are not a political party and we don’t force our views on our members. They will act as per their conscience. But what I can tell you is that the BJP’s vote share is likely to increase. One will have to wait and see, what it is going to be,” said Natesan.
Incidentally, Natesan’s son Tushar Vellapally is the chairperson of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) — the second biggest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally in the state. But Natesan keeps a safe distance from the BDJS politics, as he is more inclined towards P. Vijayan.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP finished a close second in Thiruvananthapuram, and a distant third in the other constituencies with a 10.33 per cent vote share, which rose to 15.10 per cent in the 2016 Assembly polls.
Having taken up the Sabarimala issue in a big way, the party expects the picture to be slightly better in constituencies such as Thiruvananthapuram, Palakkad and Pathanamthitta (where the Sabarimala temple is located).
Kerala BJP President P. S. Sreedharan Pillai told IANS that many, including election officials, tried to prevent it bringing up the issue in the campaign.
“But it kept coming back because it is one of the main issues. We never went out of the way to rake it up, as everyone knows what happened in Kerala. This has certainly helped us and we are hopeful of opening our account in the state this time,” said Pillai.
State BJP General Secretary M.T. Ramesh, who coordinated Modi’s Kerala visit, too called the row a “clincher”. “Even if it was one of issues, it’s going to be a clincher for us, especially in the southern districts (Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta). We are in a strong position in Palakkad anyway, but this will also help us. We are going to do well,” said Ramesh.
However, P. Vijayan has been silent on the matter. After casting his vote in Kannur, he said that the fight in Kerala was between the Congress-led UDF and the Left. “The BJP is not even going to come second in any constituency,” he asserted.