Amit Shah immediately after the first phase of the Sabarimala agitation, threatened to ‘pull down’ the LDF government in the state.

 

With the BJP’s rathyatra to Sabarimala temple base camp set to roll out this week, Kerala is heading for a flashpoint on the issue of entry of women of all ages into the Ayyappa shrine, which may turn out to be ominous for the ruling Left Front government. Not to be left behind, the Congress has also announced rallies from four different corners of the state culminating in Pathanamthitta district, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. The BJP yatra scheduled to begin from Kasaragod district in the north on 8 November will end in Sabarimala base station Erumeli on 13 November, the day the Supreme Court will consider the review petitions against its verdict lifting restrictions on entry of women. While a number of Hindu bodies have filed petitions, the state government and the Travancore Devaswom Board under which Sabarimala comes, have refused to approach the court. Though the BJP yatra is being held under the banner of NDA, various Hindu organisations and community outfits such as the Nair Service Society (NSS) are expected to extend support. The yatra gathers importance in the light of large scale protests witnessed against the government move to implement the court order a fortnight ago when the temple opened for five days at the beginning of Malayalam month Thulam. After all attempts by the police to ensure entry of women to the temple in those five days were foiled by determined agitators who blocked their way physically, at times violently, the state government had clamped down on the protesters, including women, rounding them up in thousands. This has brought the BJP and the ruling CPM to a stand-off, dragging along other socio-religious organisations and threatening the very social fabric of the state.

BJP national president Amit Shah added his bit to this turmoil when on a visit to political hotbed, Kannur, immediately after the first phase of the Sabarimala agitation, he threatened to “pull down” the LDF government in the state. “I have come here (Kannur) to warn Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that if he does not stop suppressing the Ayyappa devotees, BJP workers would not hesitate to pull down his government,” Shah had said. This was of course greeted with much jubilation from the crowd, which saw it as an endorsement of their violent protests against the government in the name of Ayyappa. Shah’s speech at the inauguration of a party office in Kannur came after the state BJP president, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, in his welcome address, hoped that his party chief would make a “strong statement that would make forces of darkness scamper for cover”. While who represents the “forces of darkness” is a matter of debate, Shah obviously thought of making maximum use of the occasion and of course the import the place, Kannur, occupies in BJP’s scheme of things in Kerala. But Shah’s apparent “threat to a democratically elected government” added much fodder to the ongoing war of words between the two parties, thus far confined to the issue of Sabarimala, and blew up into a full-fledged political slugfest between “right wing Hindutva forces” and “Left wing atheists”.

The LDF convener and CPM central committee member, A. Vijayaraghavan said the BJP yatra was meant to undermine law and order and communal harmony in the state. “The yatra of L.K. Advani culminated in the demolition of Babri Masjid and communal polarisation in India. Similarly, the BJP’s rathyatra to Sabarimala will lead to the collapse of communal harmony in Kerala,” Vijayaraghavan said in a statement, which on the face of it sounds a bit far-fetched given the secular credentials of Kerala. BJP state president, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, on the other hand, has alleged that the LDF government was trying to destroy the Sabarimala temple by declaring a “war against devotees of Lord Ayyappa”, which too is far from truth given the fact that the state government, irrespective of political affiliations, is duty-bound to implement the SC order. The fact of the matter is that the tussle is purely political since both CPM and BJP are actually vying for the Hindu vote share in the state. The issue of women’s entry into the Ayyappa shrine has come in handy for the BJP to get a foothold in Sabarimala and through devotion hope to reap a major share of the Hindu vote in the 2019 general elections. The NSS, which had supported the LDF ever since the 2016 Assembly polls, joining the “Save Sabarimala” campaign of the BJP has to a certain extent rattled CPM. Most of the women who took to the streets came through NSS network and not from the BJP, as is commonly perceived outside the state. Though CPM tried to counter them by deploying it own cadre, it quickly shelved the effort. There was a sense of desperation in the appeal of CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan when he demanded that the NSS change its stand on the women entry issue “since society’s stand was not in tune with renaissance values” the organisation had once given leadership to in the past. There may be a large number of women who will not like to visit Sabarimala despite the SC order. But to say that 99% of women in Kerala are against entry of women to Sabarimala as claimed by the Congress and BJP is nonsense. Let women decide whether they want to go to the temple or not. No one has the right to stop them. Any attempt to politicise such an issue is highly condemnable.

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