The political impact of Sabarimala verdict: How will parties use the judgement?
A Malayalam meme doing the rounds post the Supreme Court’s judgment on Sabarimala depicted Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (actor Jayaram in the meme) inside a police station lock-up, pleading with people to trust him that he was not the one who allowed the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, but the Supreme Court.
This was a meme made by the CM's supporters aimed at those who overlooked the fact that the judgement was pronounced by the top court, as there are many social media posts and comments which say that the verdict is the result of progressive thinking of the Left government.
It should also be noted that the previous United Democratic Front (UDF) government, led by the Congress, had said that the entry of women into the temple should be restricted. During the tenure of the UDF government from 2011 to 2016, the Travancore Devaswom Board (which controls the affairs of the temple), led by its president and former Congress MLA Prayar Gopalakrishnan, had also said in its affidavit that the ban shouldn’t be lifted.
How political parties make use of the verdict
A section of Hindu voters believe that right-wing organisations protect their traditions and rituals. Post the Sabarimala verdict, this has been used as a tool against the CPI(M)-led Left government, primarily because the LDF government had informed the court that they were not against women's entry.
On the other hand, the CPI(M) also played a tactical game. While the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government said that it was in support of lifting the ban, the Travancore Devaswom Board, now under its direct control, took the opposite stand.
The Congress has also been playing a double game. Though Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, in his initial response, had said that everyone is bound to obey the SC verdict, he changed his stand later.
“The entry of women into Sabarimala had never been banned, but there were restrictions in the name of certain rituals," he said on the day of the verdict. But, he later changed his stand and said that the Devaswom Board should file a review petition against the verdict. He also said that the Supreme Court had not taken into consideration the social impact of the judgment.
“It is mostly the votes of the Hindu community in Kerala which political parties are not sure of. The votes, especially the once-assured Hindu votes that went to the Congress, could go to the BJP if the latter can successfully play the devotee card. Both the Congress and the Left don’t want this to happen. Hence, they are playing safe in issues related to faith,” said a political critic.
However, the initial stand of the RSS that it was not against the verdict had put the BJP on the back foot, and the party’s silence led to discontent brewing among the workers. Realizing the damage, BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai on Monday said that the party will join a public protest along with the devotes.
The Sangh Parivar managed to garner support against the Left government in the issue through the effective use of social media, the CPI(M)’s cyber cell couldn’t withstand it, the political critic said.
“This could be because they were not directed properly, or because of confusion,” the critic said.
Influence of the government’s affidavit on SC verdict
Consecutive Kerala governments lead by UDF and LDF in alternate terms did not stick to one stand, but kept shifting sides in the affidavits it submitted to the apex court. This was also noted by the five-judge bench. But, in November 2016, in the final affidavit, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government said that it favoured the entry of women of all ages into the temple. However, did the government’s affidavit influence the verdict?
“It is a foolish thought that that the government affidavit influenced the verdict. Even the SC observed that the government had first stated that the entry shouldn’t be allowed (on the UDF government’s stand) and now that it should be. The Court also said that seeking the government’s opinion was a formality,” said noted lawyer Cherunniyoor Sasidharan Nair.
Sasidharan said that the court looked at the interpretation of the Constitution, which can’t be as per people’s emotions.
"When the Constitution is interpreted, there is no role of the government or the parties involved in the case. What is relevant are facts. What the court looked at was if the entry falls under what is written in the Constitution. It is a fundamental right too; only a minority is opposing it. The Constitution can’t be interpreted as per people’s emotions,” he said.
Will there be a political impact?
“What right-wing activists are trying to do is to create momentum before the upcoming pilgrim season in November. If they are not successful, in the long run, the political impact of the objection to the verdict would be zero,” said senior journalist and columnist MB Santhosh.
Santhosh said that people often don’t easily adapt to the relaxation of restrictions, but may do in due course of time.
“When people of non-dominant classes had been allowed entry into all temples through the historic Temple Entry Proclamation, at first even they were not ready to go fearing that would attract the wrath of god. Slowly, it proved to be a bloodless revolution. The situation was similar when Sati was abolished. Even women were not willing to stop the practice,” Santhosh said.
However, considering the communal polarisation in the country, the verdict could may as well further divide people if it is not kept in check. This, in turn, can be used by the political parties eyeing vote banks.