Bengaluru: Is Kerala’s Sabarimala agitation fizzling out? Or is to set to take a new turn in December, with parties, which have been arguing for and against the ban on women’s entry at the hill shrine, reshuffling their strategies?
Recently, Sabarimala had witnessed violent protests against a Supreme Court (SC) order allowing entry of women of childbearing age. However, after the latest political developments fresh questions are being asked.
The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, was severely criticized by the opposition for its aggressive posturing on implementing the SC order, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leading the protests.
However, on Saturday, the party was left red-faced when the results to the 39 local body seats were announced in Kerala, winning just two seats. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), on the other hand, won 21 seats, besides marginally increasing its votes across Kerala. The Congress-led United Democratic Front won 12 seats.
The results show that the state’s bipolar politics is still intact, and the BJP has failed to make inroads despite its frantic campaigning on Sabarimala.
The Kerala high court’s observations on Friday were yet another setback for the saffron brigade. The court clamped down protesters saying the temple premises cannot be turned into a war zone. It also appointed a special commissioner to oversee how the temple is run, essentially taking over its administration. Further protests may risk the judiciary’s wrath, since every development will be closely monitored by the court.
The developments forced the BJP to quickly change its strategy. It has now decided to move away from ground zero—the temple premises—to the state’s administrative headquarters at Thiruvananthapuram. BJP leaders will take turns to sit on a hunger strike before the Secretariat, starting Monday, demanding the withdrawal of prohibitory orders near the temple site, besides dropping the cases against the 72 BJP leaders, who were arrested on non-bailable warrants, and 5,000 others booked under various sections following the protests.
“The HC verdict and the arrests have certainly made an impact on the issue. We will try to bring back the momentum using the hunger strike," said a senior party leader, requesting anonymity. Party president Amit Shah has also sent a delegation to chart out “the future of the protests" in consultation with various stakeholders.
Sensing victory, the CPM is also chalking out its own strategy. On Saturday, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan met 170 key stakeholders among Kerala’s Hindu community, including Vellappally Nadesan, the chief of Ezhava outfit Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), which is a BJP ally. After the meeting, Vijayan said a human chain of one million women will be formed as a “show of strength against the Sangh’s attempts to reverse Kerala to “dark ages".
“If the bypolls are any indicator, I fail to understand for whom the BJP is fighting in Kerala," said K.J. Jacob, political analyst and executive editor of Deccan Chronicle in Kerala. “The government has also got an opportunity to back out from the conflict. With the court order, the temple’s running is no more in its hands. For any protests, the BJP will now have to convince a panel mandated by the court to not turn Sabarimala into a war-zone."
“They (the BJP) are realising that you can’t fight the law forever," said J. Prabhash, another political analyst and professor of political science at the University of Kerala. “With its low-key cadre base in Kerala, it is difficult for the BJP to continue this fight amidst massive crackdown by the state and the court intervention. Also, Kerala is full of middle class people who will not rally in support of continued chaos. People have started to complain. Otherwise, the BJP should have had an imaginative leadership, which it doesn’t have in Kerala," he said.
Prabhash adds that the December assembly election results will also be crucial factor. “If the BJP cannot bring home good results, that will be also add to the image crisis for the party in Kerala and possibly be the end of Sabarimala advantage they made."