Thiruvananthapuram: The Sabarimala controversy was supposed to have become a major wedge for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Kerala. It inflamed passions and led people to agitate on the streets like no other event in recent past. But now, the party does not want to be seen as making the temple-related controversy its main poll plank in Kerala, according to two party leaders Mint spoke to.
The move signals the party’s thinking that the temple issue may benefit the Congress more than its candidates in the election. The BJP’s agitation over the issue had petered out due to internal differences and had faced a backlash over the party’s shifting positions.
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai, who had earlier said Sabarimala was a golden opportunity for the party to grow in Kerala, said on Tuesday the temple issue was not its main poll plank in the state. “Sabarimala is not a campaign weapon. It is an issue close to the soul of Ayyappa devotees, how can one commodify the soul?" he said.
Pillai was booked by the police after his golden opportunity comment with charges such as intent to cause fear and inducing people to commit a crime against the state or against the public order.
However, he said the party would rely on the blessings of the temple’s deity, Lord Ayyappa, which could be interpreted that the BJP has not given up on the issue ahead of the polls. The BJP has never won a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, but has its eyes set on at least five seats in the upcoming polls. It is banking on increased vote shares in the previous Lok Sabha elections and the upper caste outfit, the Nair Service Society, shifting support in its favour over the Sabarimala issue.
“In the changed circumstances, we expect improved performance. We are believers, we expect Ayyappa to favour us. Ayyappa devotees will see who worked on their behalf," Pillai said.
Separately, in an interview last week in Bengaluru, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP who was until recently the Kerala unit chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), said the party did not see the Sabarimala agitation “as a politically opportunistic method" to open an electoral account in the state.
“One of the ironies of Indian politics is every one of these parties that calls itself secular expects the BJP to do things that are religious. The PM’s (prime minister Narendra Modi’s) narrative is ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ (Development for all, with all). If you think that the BJP’s poll strategy is going to revolve around Sabarimala, you are mistaken," Chandrashekar said.
Anil S, a senior journalist in Thiruvananthapuram, said BJP leaders might be worried of possible gains for the Congress over the issue. “The Congress followed a middle path on Sabarimala — it attacked the state government, but it did not resort to street violence. The BJP, on the other hand, exposed its opportunistic stand and its image was damaged. Naturally, the party is worried that voters see the Congress as the first option if they want to protest against the ruling Communists over the Sabarimala issue," he said.