Ernakulam: The focus in the controversy over the entry of girls and women aged 10-50 to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple has now shifted to how the issue will reshape politics in a state where the Left and the Right will probably have their most prestigious clash in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
On Monday, the massive protests to reinstate an age-old ban against allowing menstrual age women, despite a Supreme Court ruling against it, came to a close at the temple, which shut down after monthly rituals. The temple will reopen for about three months in November, for its annual pilgrim season.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) opposition has been trying to use the issue to engage with Hindu voters in search of political viability, while the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, chose to make an aggressive push to implement the court verdict by making statements against the ritual and using police force against protesters.
The CPM was seen as caught between ideological commitment and political reality, as it was forced to soften its stand and approach the Supreme Court to express it helplessness after women were unable to enter the temple.
“The whole movement has the potential to reshape the conventional binary politics in Kerala that has been swinging between the CPM and Congress for decades," said Sandeep Shastri, national coordinator of political think tank Lokniti network.
“As the protests intensified, the Left’s image was on a climb down. However, their aggressive posturing in the initial phase did not allow them any space for political manoeuvring. In the process, the Congress and the BJP has taken advantage by saying the state should go for a review of the judgement," he said.
The real winner of the tussle, analysts said, might be the Kerala unit of the Congress, the main opposition in the state, who sensed an opportunity in the verdict and positioned itself aggressively in favouring the ban, though it meant contradicting its national body that had initially backed the apex court verdict.
The BJP, despite making its presence felt by raising the issue, lacks the benefit of a massive electoral presence like the Congress.
The party leaders seem to have taken note of it already. “Our position has clearly gained us a lot of mileage. We are taking a leap ahead by holding four padayathras (foot marches) across the state to rally our supporters against the government," said Congress Kerala president Mullappally Ramachandran.
“The party might reap benefits up to the hill out of the controversy, while the BJP lacks the benefit of a massive electoral presence across like the Congress," said Shastri.