Kerala's Republic Day float left off list of final 14 state tableaux: LDF leaders slam 'political' exclusion by Centre
The Kerala government sought to make renaissance the theme of its float for the Republic Day Parade on 26 January
After right-wing outfits thwarted its move to implement the Supreme Court verdict lifting the ban on the entry of menstruating women to the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, Kerala's Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has been trying to make the entry of women possible by reviving the renaissance legacy of the state.
It sought to articulate the idea at the national level by making renaissance the theme of its float for the Republic Day Parade on 26 January. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Front (NDA) government is not impressed by the idea. The Ministry of Defence, which is the final authority on selecting the floats, has reportedly denied permission to the proposed float that depicts the 1924-25 Vaikom Satyagriha.
The state government considers the satyagriha relevant in the case of Sabarimala since it helped lower caste Hindus in gaining their right not only to enter temples, but also to use public roads. The satyagriha organised with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi was also instrumental in the 1936 Temple Entry Proclamation made by the erstwhile Travancore rulers.
The state government had also proposed the Temple Entry Proclamation and the Non-Cooperation Movement as themes for the float. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's political secretary MV Jayarajan said that the cultural committee under the defence ministry had selected the Vaikom Satyagriha for the state's float. However, it did not figure among the list of 14 state floats finalised by the ministry.
"We have not received any communication from the ministry so far. We presume it is rejected since the state was not included in the final list. We don't know the reason for rejecting the theme, which we thought is relevant in the wake of the stiff resistance from right-wing outfits to the move to implement the Sabarimala verdict," he added.
When asked whether the decision is political, Jayarajan said that it was clearly so, since the BJP and Sangh Parivar have been at the forefront of the agitation against permitting women's entry to the temple. He opined that the state unit of the BJP was trying to use the issue for political gains.
The state leadership of the saffron party, that initially welcomed the apex court verdict, started opposing it after women in large numbers took to the streets against the government's support to women entering the temple. The party workers and Sangh Parivar activists have been resisting the entry of women by trekking up the hill as devotees and physically blocking young women from going into the temple.
State BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai had described the Sabarirmala issue as a golden opportunity for the growth of his party in the state and urged the cadres to extract maximum mileage from it. The biggest attraction of the party was the strong position the Nair Service Society (NSS), a community organisation of the upper caste Nair community, took against women's entry to Sabarimala.
The party believed it to be an opportunity to bring the organisation under the NDA fold as in the case of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam of the lower caste Ezhavas, which aligned with the NDA by floating a political party called Bharat Dharama Jana Sena (BDJS).
The BJP has been targeting Hindu community organisations as most of the regional parties are well-entrenched in either the LDF or UDF. However, NSS defied the move saying that it did not want to be identified as a Sangh Parivar outfit. The Sabarimala issue saw both coming together.
Although NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair denied any political tie-up with BJP, the LDF feels that the members of the community will side with the saffron party as they believe that the saffron party has backed their struggle for protecting the customs and rituals in Sabarimala.
Political analysts believe that the government had thought of rallying renaissance organisations to make up the loss by consolidating its position among Ezhavas, who traditionally backed the Communists. They believe that the government had given the leadership of the women's wall on 1 January proposed as part of the renaissance campaign to SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan with this in mind.
The government had proposed the float on Vaikom Satyagriha to strengthen the movement. Therefore, it considers the rejection of the float by the Central government as a politically-motivated decision. The state BJP chief refused to comment on the defence ministry's decision. He said he had no official information from the Central government about the rejection of the float. "I have only seen the media reports. I cannot comment based on the media reports," Pillai said.
However, a BJP leader, who did not want to be identified, denied any politics behind the decision. He said that the floats for the parade are selected based on various criteria. He pointed out that the floats proposed by the state in 2015 and 2016 were also rejected. No one raised any political point behind the decision then, the party leader said.
Political analysts suspect that the Central government decision not to allow the state's float on the Vaikom Satyagriha could be aimed at supporting the Sangh Parivar. Joseph C Mathew, advisor to former chief minister VS Achuthanandan, said it could be a political decision as the theme of the float was cleared by the cultural committee.
"If the defence minister has overruled the committee's decision, it could be on political grounds. This is a serious issue. The state should protest this strongly," he said, adding that Kerala will lose the gains it has made through renaissance if the conservative sections are allowed to gain an upper hand. Joseph said he had differences with the government over the conduct of the women's wall. But he said that he wanted the campaign to succeed as it would strengthen the fight against the reactionary forces trying to 'take the state back to the Stone Age'.
The BJP and Congress-led Opposition United Democratic Front have been opposing the women's wall by terming it a communal wall aimed at seeking political gains from dividing people communally. While the Congress refused to associate with the wall, the Sangh Parivar countered it by organising an Ayyappa Jyothi — the simultaneous lighting of Ayyappa lamps from Manjeshwaram in the North to Parassala in the South — on 26 December.
The Central government's decision to deny permission for the Kerala float on renaissance may fuel the simmering tussle between the LDF and the Sangh Parivar over Sabarimala.
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