The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had initially backed the Supreme Court verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages inside the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, took a U-turn on its stand after devotees, including women, took to the streets in large numbers against the implementation of the ruling.
The saffron party played this as a "golden opportunity" to consolidate the Hindus, who had withstood its Hindutva campaign and held firmly to their secular tradition so far. The results of the by-elections held this week to 39 local body wards across all 14 districts in Kerala show that the BJP went wrong with its calculations.
The party, which took over the Sabarimala agitation and spread it across the state with the help of Sangh Parivar outfits, won two panchayat wards and lost one. The elections were held in 27 panchayat wards, five block panchayat wards, six municipality wards and one corporation ward.
Curiously, the BJP could get only 19 votes in two wards in Pathanamthitta district, where the temple is located. The party candidate got just 12 votes in the Kadakkad ward of the Pandalam municipality, which has been the epicentre of the Sabarimala protests. In the adjacent Pathanamthitta municipality, the BJP candidate secured only seven votes in the Kulasekharapatnam ward.
The party could also not make any gains in Tripunithura municipality, where it organised a series of aggressive protests against the Sabarimala verdict. The BJP candidate was pushed to the second position by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the Maramkulangara division. The party won the two seats in Alappuzha district, where the protests were subdued.
However, the Congress-led Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), which backed the devotee's stand against the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 inside Sabarimala, was the biggest loser. The Congress and its allies bagged 11 wards as against the 16 they held earlier.
The LDF, which went to the polls in a defensive mode, put up an impressive performance, winning 21 wards. The coalition managed to sweep all seats in Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Palakkad and Kasargod districts and win two of four wards each in Kannur and Malappuram districts, one of the three wards in Thiruvananthapuram district and one of the five wards in Alappuzha.
Although the by-election to the local bodies in Kerala are fought on local issues, the bypolls this time gained political significance as the main theme of the campaigns was women's entry inside the Sabarimala temple. While the UDF and BJP tried to cash in on the sentiments of the devotees against women's entry inside the shrine, calling it a battle between believers and non-believers, the LDF focused on its government's predicament and the gender equality implicit in the Supreme Court verdict.
Political observers consider this a pointer to even the odds in the coming Lok Sabha elections. NM Pearson, a Left-leaning political analyst based in Kochi, said the LDF may sweep the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala if the trend continues. He said LDF victory in the bypolls was the result of the strong stand that the state government took on the subjtect.
"The setback suffered by the BJP is a strong indication that the communal politics they experimented with in the North will not work in Kerala. Keralites may be orthodox in their religious beliefs, but they are not ready to mix religion with politics. The party has failed to realise this," Pearson said.
He also said the Congress will lose ground in the state if it continues with the policy of trying to appease the majority community. The minorities, who have traditionally backed the UDF, will consolidate behind the LDF and the Hindus will go to the BJP if they continue with this policy. The gains that the LDF made in the minority-dominated Malappuram and Ernakulam districts are a strong indication of this change in the thinking among the minorities.
The victory of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of radical Popular Front of India (PFI), in two wards indicates a Muslim consolidation against the BJP's attempt to rally the Hindus communally. The BJP candidate even lost his deposit in the Kadakkad division of the Pandalam municipality, where the SDPI emerged victorious.
State Minister for Industries EP Jayarajan believes this victory is a recognition to the Kerala government's decision to implement the Supreme Court verdict. "The BJP and Congress were destroyed in these election amid the Sabarimala issue. This shows the people have accepted our stand in this issue," Jayarajan was quoted as saying by India Today.
CN Mohanan, CPM district secretary of Ernkulam, where the LDF won all the ive wards, said the Left victory in the by-elections was a sign of endorsement of the secular stance the government had taken on the Sabarimala issue and the rejection of the politics of hate and division pursued by both the Congress and BJP.
The LDF government had apparently decided to implement the top court verdict with the calculation that the Hindu votes that the UDF traditionally wins may partially shift to the BJP, and that minorities would consolidate behind it. The gamble has paid off. This trend was visible in the local body elections in 2015 and the Assembly elections in 2016, in which the LDF won wherever the BJP made gains.
Moreover, the UDF suffered major reverses in the wards where the BJP gained. The two seats that the saffron party won in Alappuzha district were from the UDF. Kerala BJP general secretary AN Radhakrishnan described this as a trend that will continue in the days to come. He said the party will replace the Congress as the main contender for power in the state.
The electoral reverses have not deterred the BJP and Congress from continuing their resistance in Kerala against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict. While the BJP has shifted its agitation to Thiruvananthapuram, the UDF has taken the protest to the Assembly, which is in session now.
Even as the LDF is jubilant over the win, the growth of the BJP and SDPI in certain pockets has raised fear among a section of LDF leaders, who believe that the communal politics they play could destroy the secular fabric of the state in the long run. However, the LDF leadership seems to be concerned only about immediate gains.
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Updated Date: Dec 01, 2018 16:13:46 IST