The Sabarimala protests have created a situation where implementation of the Supreme Court’s historic judgment of September 28, allowing women of menstruating age to pray at the Ayyappa Temple, has become a challenge. The unfolding events in the Periyar Reserve Forest have the potential to alter the political history of southern India. That religious passions are high is obvious. Thousands of devotees have joined in protests against the Supreme Court verdict and have blocked the entry of women into the temple complex even under the cover of security. An underlining political tussle has come in the way of resolving the logjam. The protests are being seen as a passport for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s entry into southern politics where the party has remained on the margins barring, of course, its success in Karnataka.
The Hindu resurgence to save an age-old tradition in one of the most famous temples has put the two dominant poles of Kerala politics in the dock. With Lok Sabha elections not far, the BJP has once again raised the pitch for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. In southern India, the Sabarimala issue will help in exploiting Hindu sentiment. For the BJP, the Sabarimala protests are turning out to be the Ayodhya movement of the south. The party perhaps feels that like the Ramjanmabhoomi issue, this too will help it electorally. It is therefore not losing the opportunity to be at the vanguard on this emotive issue. That apart, being seen with those who are protesting the Supreme Court judgment, is also being far-sighted. If the BJP were to lose ground in northern Indian states, the southern states would eventually help out with the numbers.
There has been political mudslinging in the middle of a tussle between the devotees and the police. The CPI(M) has blamed the BJP for orchestrating the protests and accused the Congress of providing a helping hand. The Left government on the other hand is accused of failing to anticipate the problem and finding a solution through dialogue. It is only now that the government is ready for a climb down as the Kerala Devaswom Board (TDB), that manages the temple, has decided to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. Bowing to pressure and public sentiment, the Kerala government had already made it clear that it will not interfere in the board’s decision to file a review petition. The issue will be back in court and if the Supreme Court refuses to amend its order, it remains to be seen how it will be implemented on ground where passions are running high.
The Sabarimala issue fits into the BJP’s scheme of things. Apart from raising the Ram Temple issue, the party is playing to the Hindu gallery with decisions like changing the name of Allahabad to Prayag Raj. The regional parties in southern India are keeping a close watch on the situation in Kerala as Lord Ayyappa’s influence goes beyond the coastal state. The Congress has already burnt its fingers by playing the religious card in Karnataka when it gave separate religion status to Lingayats. Political parties need to recalibrate their strategy to deal with the rising Hindi sentiment. Overall, it is time for sagacity rather than taking advantage of an emotive issue of faith. The brutal attack on women journalists on their way to Sabarimala and forcing women on their way to turn back is not how civilised societies behave.