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In Sabarimala temple politics down south, BJP and RSS see an opportunity

The RSS-BJP combine sense an opportunity in the Sabarimala temple row to turn it into an Ayodhya of the South for electoral dividends; the Left Democratic Front and the Congress are trying their best to stop that.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2018 10:39 IST
MC Rajan
MC Rajan
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Sabarimala verdict,Sabarimala row,Sabarimala protest
Devotees enter in the Lord Ayyappa temple as gates open in Sabarimala on October 17, 2018.(Vivek Nair/HT Photo)

With the Sabarimala protests reaching a peak, the focus has now shifted to the political impact of the movement as Lok Sabha elections are not far away.

The RSS-BJP combine sense an opportunity to ride on this tide and turn Sabarimala into an Ayodhya of the South to reap electoral dividends; meanwhile, the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front and the Opposition Congress are trying their best to deny the saffron brigade any political space.

As rallies and protests by groups opposing the entry of women of all ages into the temple gained ground, the BJP changed its position. This, despite the apparent difference of the local unit (which had first welcomed the Supreme Court verdict as one that paved the way for gender equality) with the stance of the party’s national leadership.

The saffron party’s job was, in part, made easier by the LDF government, which has no other option but to implement the court verdict. And though the BJP maintains it was not spearheading the agitations, its leaders were at the forefront, lending credence to the CPI(M)’s charge that the Sangh Parivaar instigated the protests to gain political mileage through communal polarisation.

“The BJP is only supporting the protests. The party is not involved in either organising or leading them,” says senior BJP leader Muraleedharan, while denying the charge that its intent is to reap electoral dividends in the Lok Sabha polls.

Squarely blaming the RSS and the BJP for the current situation, CPI(M) MP MB Rajesh says: “It is an ideological and political fight and were are carrying it forward. While the RSS-BJP brigade is instigating the protests, the Congress has betrayed its historical legacy by supporting them.” He is not convinced the BJP can convert this angst into votes.

The state government itself is partly to blame, according to activist and analyst Civic Chandran, a former Naxal leader. The Pinarayi Vijayan government failed to resolve the issue through dialogue, he adds. While, admitting that the government should implement the court verdict, he points out where similar verdicts like the one on Adivasi land have not been acted upon with same urgency.

In his view, the Sabarimala protests will certainly find an echo in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, with the BJP gaining more ground and possibly snatching one or two parliamentary seats. Interestingly, people from the other backward classes or OBCs have stayed away from the protests. And the Ezhava community leadership has come out openly against the protests as has tribal leader CK Janu. The OBCs account for about 32% of the state’s population, the Ezhavas 22.6% and tribals 1.45%. As such, hopes of communal polarisation yielding any tangible gains remains to be seen.

Vijayaraghavan Cheliya, who has written on Sabarimala, says, “In the absence of continuity and genuine conversation, there is a lack of credibility which allows the ground to the saffron brigade to exploit the present situation.”

As for the Congress ambivalence, his rationale is that it is a tactic preventing the RSS-BJP from occupying the entire political space offered by the Sabarimala impasse. Further, he is dismissive of the BJP making a rich harvest out of this in the general elections, given the social dynamics of Kerala.

Meanwhile, the situation in Pampa and Nilakal has been brought under control. But the organisations spearheading the protests haven’t given up and have called for a shutdown to press for their demand. Since, it is supported by the Sangh, the Congress has distanced from it.

First Published: Oct 18, 2018 07:29 IST