Ever since the Supreme Court judgment on September 28 that lifted the ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 worshipping at Sabarimala temple, the BJP in Kerala has been in the news. The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front state government quickly moved to implement the order, while the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposed it. Initially the BJP welcomed the judgment, but U-turned to join protesters.
As BJP state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai put it, the agitation was a “golden opportunity”. Though the party had made steady gains in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2016 assembly election, the Left’s victory in May’s Chengannur by election—which Pillai himself contested—was a setback, with the BJP’s vote share dipping by 7,500. But five months later, Pillai was taking CM Pinarayi Vijayan head on.
Meanwhile, Vijayan may have alienated his Hindu vote bank. Even within the party—90 per cent of the CPI(M) state are devout Hindus. According to pundits, Vijayan’s plan had been to battle the BJP one-to-one, edging out the Congress from Kerala’s political landscape to become the party of choice for minority voters. But that may prove to be a costly mistake if disaffected communists gravitate to the UDF.
Political analyst P. Rajan tells Outlook, “The UDF is going to gain tremendously for treading the middle path and defending the Sabarimala rituals. The biggest loser will be the CPI(M). The protest movement is led by upper-caste Hindus, so there will be greater consolidation of Nair votes for the BJP, but this could only be a two per cent gain. It may not be enough to pick up seats,” he says. A survey by polling agency CVoter, commissioned by Republic TV, gives the UDF 16 seats out of 20 in 2019, with 10 going to the Congress.
The only consolation for the CPI(M) is that historically, the Nair and Ezhava communities are uncomfortable together on the same platform. Now the perception is that both are backing the BJP on the Sabarimala issue. But if the assembly elections in other states are not favourable for the BJP, SNDP leader Vellapally Natesan of the Ezhava community, who has been frustrated with the BJP, may just ditch it. “The CPI(M) may see their votes haemorrhaging, but things may change too,” says an analyst. Or will change favour the BJP, finally making them a force in Kerala’s politics?
By Minu Ittyipe in Kochi