As campaigning for the Kerala Assembly elections picks up, the issue of women’s entry at Sabarimala temple has come back to trouble the ruling CPI (M).
In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the entry of women of menstruating age at the shrine following a Supreme Court verdict had contributed to the defeat of the LDF in 19 out of 20 seats. Now, with state and central leaders of CPI (M) taking contradictory stands on the issue, the Opposition has another opportunity to attack them.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Thursday told the media in Malappuram that certain persons develop “a keen interest in Sabarimala” whenever elections approach. “The issue is before the Supreme Court. When the final verdict comes, if there is an issue connected with the faithful, it will be discussed with all. It is appropriate to wait until the final verdict,’’ he said.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala asked if the CM was “willing to confess that his earlier stand on Sabarimala was wrong”. “He should publicly apologise for having paved the way for violating the temple traditions,” Chennithala said.
The Sabarimala issue gained momentum again after CPI(M) leader and temple affairs minister Kadakampally Surendran, contesting from Kazhakuttam, last week expressed regret over the incidents at the hill shrine. Climbing down from the party’s earlier stand, Surendran said whatever be the outcome of the review petitions in the SC, the government would “consult the faithful” on the issue.
Protests against the entry of women at the shrine in 2018 had turned violent, leading to a government crackdown.
Surendran’s “regret” before the media evoked sharp reactions from the Opposition and the Nair Service Society, the upper caste Hindu outfit at the forefront of agitations against the women entry.
NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair said mere regret would not help, as “everyone knows the circumstances under which the minister has expressed the regret”. “The Chief Minister says all would be consulted when the final verdict comes, but the CP (M) general secretary has taken a different stand. This is only to fool the faithful,” he said.
Indicating the confusion prevailing in the party, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechuri on Wednesday contradicted Surendran, saying the state government was duty-bound to implement the Supreme Court order. Yechuri told the media, “I don’t know in what circumstances the minister said it. The party’s stand on the matter remains the same. The government was duty-bound to implement the Supreme Court verdict, allowing entry for women of all ages to the temple,” he said.
The CPI (M)’s bid to win over the faithful began after the Opposition Congress and BJP raised the Sabarimala issue in many constituencies that had witnessed violent protests in 2018. In Tripunithura, the election deposit for Congress candidate K Babu was contributed by a former Sabarimala priest, Ezhikode Sasidharan.