The virulent attack launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and the Congress on the Sabarimala issue during his two visits to Kerala within a span of a fortnight indicates that faith will be his party’s core issue in the ensuing Lok Sabha election in the state.
The issue was thrown up after the Pinarayi Vijayan government implemented after the 28 September, 2018 Supreme Court verdict allowing entry to women of all ages in the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala. By violently protesting the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 inside the temple, the BJP workers sought to use the issue to trigger a Hindu consolidation that they failed to achieve through the hardline Hindutva politics.
However, the state leadership of the party senses huge potential in the issue to not only consolidate the Hindu votes but also make inroads into the minority vote bank. They, have, therefore, started wooing the minorities by dubbing the Communist’s move as an attack on the faith as per their atheistic agenda.
The Prime Minister has endorsed the state leadership’s calculations by harping on the issue in both the rallies he addressed at Kollam on 15 January and at Thrissur on 27 January. Cleverly avoiding any mention of the court verdict and the state government’s obligation to implement it, he launched a scathing attack on the LDF government for its handling of the issue and the Congress for adopting a double standard on the issue in both the places.
"Kerala's cultural ethos are under attack from the party that is ruling the state. The Sabarimala issue has got the attention of the entire nation. I fail to understand why the communist government is trying to undermine the country’s culture and civilisation which stood the test of the time," Modi said while addressing a public meeting in connection with the Yuva Morcha state conference at Thrissur on Sunday.
Modi also sought to put the Congress in the same bracket by pointing out is national leadership’s stand welcoming the apex court verdict. This is viewed by political analysts as a clever bid to project the BJP as the sole saviour of faith and attract upper caste Hindus and minorities, who traditionally back the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the state, into the BJP camp.
The aggressive campaign by the BJP against the entry of women in Sabarimala and the 10 percent quota for the economically weak in the general category have helped the party in building a bridge to the Nair Service Society (NSS), which hold considerable sway over the 13 percent Nair population in the state.
BJP leaders consider the appreciation extended by NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair to the party’s Sabarimala campaign and the quota law will bring the Nairs close to the party. Nair has been shunning the BJP’s bid to rope in the NSS into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), saying he doesn’t want the NSS to be identified with the Hindutva politics. The party hopes that he organisation will review the stance and back the BJP in protecting the faith.
The presence of influential spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi at the Ayyappa Baktha Sangamam (Ayyappa Devotees Gathering) that the Sabarimala Karma Samithi organised at Thiruvananthapuram on 20 January and the greetings sent by Sri Ravi Shankar on the occasion have lent greater respectability to the Sabarimala campaign led by the Sangh Parivar.
The BJP's endeavor is to translate the goodwill into votes during the Lok Sabha election. Modi's two visits to the state this month has galvanised the workers. The state leadership is awaiting the visit of Party president Amit Shah next month to consolidate the position further.
Amit Shah wants the party to win at least 12 seats in Kerala. However, the party think tank consider it too tall an order in a state with 45 percent minority population, which is still skeptical about saffron party’s Hindutva agenda.
Incidentally, the latest ABP-CVoter survey shows a Lok Sabha seat a distant possibility for the BJP in the coming election. They survey says the saffron party would only be able to increase its vote share from 15 percent in 2016 to 19 percent in 2019.
The survey predicting 14 seats to the UDF and the remaining four to the LDF has even surprised the political pundits, who thought that the LDF will sweep the election with the BJP eating into the UDF’s upper caste Hindu vote bank.
Political analysts had reached such a conclusion as the BJP gains in the previous local body and Assembly elections had proved to the UDF’s loss. This, they explained, was because the backbone of the LDF is lower caste Hindus, who normally do not change their political affiliation easily. This is the reason why the BJP could not make major gains in the Assembly election despite roping in Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a political outfit the lower caste Ezhava community, accounting for 23 percent of the state’s population, into the NDA fold.
However, analysts, like George Podippara, believes that there could be a churning in this constituency because of the Sabarimala issue. He said that a large number of LDF vote bank comprise believers, who will find it difficult to come to terms with the dilution of the customs and rituals in the Sabarimala temple.
He, however, said that this section may find it equally difficult to vote for BJP, which they have been opposing traditionally. They may not find the same difficulty in voting for the Congress, which has also been opposing the entry of menstruating women in Sabarimala albeit peacefully unlike the BJP.
“I, therefore, find the survey result realistic. The state has been witnessing a phenomenon of people belonging to rival political combinations joining hands in defeating the BJP in the past elections. Whenever BJP comes close to victory, they vote for the next party with the winning chance cutting across political affiliations. This has happened several times in the past elections and the phenomenon may be repeated in the coming election too,” he said.
Podippara said that the beneficiary this time could be Congress since a large number of people in the state, especially minorities, believe that only the grand old party can take on the saffron party nationally. He pointed out that voters in Kerala were showing split preference in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections because the LDF is not in a position to come to power at the Centre.
With the Left parties losing their base in its other bastions in West Bengal and Tripura, there is no reason to believe that they will have any major role to play at the Centre unless they align with the Congress or mahagathbandhan of the regional parties. On the other hand, the victory that the Congress got in the Hindi heartland has changed the perception of the people towards the party. Podippara believes that this may help the Congress in Kerala.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2019 00:17:47 IST