LDF fights BJP’s Sabarimala battle with caste politics

LDF fights BJP’s Sabarimala battle with caste politics


As the BJP is making a bid to make inroads into the traditional vote banks of the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala with its Hindu consolidation strategy using the row over the entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, attempts are on to counter the BJP’s game plan.

Labelling Hindu consolidation as an upper caste project and showcasing the development activities proposed at Sabarimala, including a Tirupati-style queue complex and an airport, are some of the counterstrategies being initiated by opposite camps.

Over the last few weeks, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been giving much emphasis to development activities at Sabarimala. The annual address by Governor P Sathasivam in the Kerala assembly last week also highlighted Sabarimala airport and the Sabarimala development masterplan that offers amenities to pilgrims. The long-pending Sabarimala rope-way project for transporting goods is getting a push, too. Various development works to the tune of Rs 739 crore over the last few years were showcased in the state budget presentation recently.

Political analysts point out that all these are efforts by the Left Front government to counter the campaign of BJP-RSS and other Hindu outfits that the government was trying to destroy the Sabarimala temple by enforcing the Supreme Court order lifting the ban on women of menstruating age (10 to 50) at the shrine.

“During the recent protests over Sabarimala, a key message of the BJP-RSS and other Sangh Parivar outfits was that the LDF government was trying to destroy the Sabarimala temple. The LDF hopes to counter this by announcing major development plans for Sabarimala. The LDF, especially Chief Minister Vijayan, will not climb down from their progressive stand on Sabarimala issue,” says senior political analyst Balachandran K.

The BJP and Sangh Parivar seem to have sensed this. A counter-campaign is being spread through social media these days alleging dubious intentions behind the Sabarimala airport project. The airport is proposed on a disputed property at Cheruvally, about 50 kilometres from the hill shrine. The Believers Church of India (BCI), headed by Bishop K P Yohannan, who faced allegations related to foreign donations, staked claim to the property and the matter is pending in court. The Believers Church and other organisations associated with Yohannan owned acres of plantations in the vicinity. Hence, it is alleged that the airport project had a hidden agenda of enhancing the real estate value of the area, which would benefit Yohanan. Messages to this effect are being spread on social media.

Another strategy doing the rounds is to create cracks in the Hindu consolidation bid by labelling it as an upper caste project. This has been done by Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), a prominent outfit of the Hindu Ezhava community that represents about 20% of Kerala’s population. The Ezhavas, a OBC community, were considered a pro-Left vote bank. But the Left government’s haste in implementing the Sabarimala women entry verdict had not gone down well with a major section of the community and the BJP was hoping to take advantage of it. A considerable number of members of some other Hindu backward communities also shared the BJP’s view on Sabarimala.

SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellapally Natesan had initially aligned with the BJP on the Sabarimala issue and opposed entry of women into the Ayyappa temple. But he later made a somersault and aligned with the LDF’s progressive campaign. Natesan was also one of the organisers of the ‘Women’s Wall’ across the state on January 1 as a symbol of gender equality -- a demonstration to counter BJP-RSS.

As the BJP’s Hindu consolidation seemed to be working well, Natesan came out with a statement that what was happening was not Hindu consolidation, but the formation of an upper caste lobby. Natesan repeated the charge on several occasions. He also charged that at the Ayyappa Bhakta Sangamam, a convention of Ayyappa devotees organised by Sangh Parivar outfits in Thiruvananthapuram on January 20, there was no proper representation of the backward communities.

Differing views

Another veteran political analyst R Babu says that though Natesan might not have much influence on the Ezhava community or the backward communities, his statement could make the members of the backward communities, who had aligned with the BJP-RSS on the Sabarimala issue, reconsider favouring the BJP during elections.

A major section of the Hindu Pulaya community, a backward caste that represents about 3.5% of the state’s population, is also keeping away from the BJP-led Sabarimala agitations.

The Hindu Nair community, an upper caste that represents about 12% of Kerala’s population, has firmly stood with the BJP on the Sabarimala issue. The economic reservation announced by Modi government also strengthened BJP-Nair bonding. The Nair community was generally considered a traditional vote bank of the Congress-led UDF. Generally, the Nair Service Society, the prominent body of the Nair community, and SNDP have never been on the same side during elections. This is a strategy to ensure proper bargaining power to each community. Hence, political analysts feel that the SNDP, which initially aligned with the BJP on the Sabarimala issue, could have distanced itself from the BJP-RSS.

Even then a political party, BDJS, formed under the aegis of the SNDP in 2016, is still part of the BJP-led NDA. It is headed by Vellappally Natesan’s son Thushar Vellapally. The BJP is also learnt to be offering seats to Thushar. The BJP hopes that this will even help plug the attempts being made by Natesan to create cracks in Hindu consolidation.

Meanwhile, there are allegations that Natesan’s present affinity towards the LDF could be due to a corruption allegation against him being probed by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Kerala government. The LDF could use it as a tool to reign in Natesan, especially during elections.