There is no mistaking it. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has lost the political initiative because of its shockingly inept handling of the Supreme Court verdict on the Sabarimala temple. The government’s unseemly hurry to implement the verdict lifting the age restrictions on women entering the shrine has touched off a wave of indignation across the state. And adding insult to injury was the chief minister’s pressure on the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to drop its plan to file a review petition.
The clumsy handling of the situation has given the opposition parties a golden chance to wrest the political initiative from the government, already buffeted by charges of corruption on the decision to sanction new brewery and distillery units in the state. Both the RSS-BJP and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) – interestingly, both the BJP and the Congress are on the same page on the issue – have swung into action to milk the issue for what it is worth, with plans to launch protracted agitations on the sensitive matter.
The Congress has, in fact, upstaged the RSS-BJP by taking to the streets with a fast at Pathanamthitta to be inaugurated by Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala. The party is back, once again, on its favourite hobby horse: pursuing soft Hindutva in an attempt to outsmart the RSS-BJP combine. That the attempt will not produce the desired results is a different matter. But Congress has gone ahead thinking that the move would receive enthusiastic support from the believers whose feelings and sentiments have been hurt by the SC verdict.
The change in stance of both the BJP-RSS and the Congress is a classic case of hunting with the hound and running with the hare. Initially, both the parties welcomed the SC verdict. But seeing the strong backlash of resentment the order has caused, both the parties have executed a neat somersault. ‘We are now with the believers and any move to protect their interests will have our unflinching support’. That is their refrain now!
The powerful Nair Service Society (NSS) has also hopped on to the legal battle bandwagon with a decision to explore the possibilities of a review petition. The NSS, it may be recalled, had been opposing the entry of women to Sabarimala right from the beginning. In fact, the outfit had impleaded itself in the case in SC. The NSS move cannot but cause extreme unease in the CPI(M)-led LDF camp. The NSS and the LDF government have maintained a cordial relationship so far. But that scenario is set to change with the community organisation deciding to challenge the SC verdict.
As a result, the CPI(M) government resolved to implement the SC order immediately without taking into account the fact that the Sabarimala issue is one on which emotions run high. It could have waited a while before taking a hasty decision in the matter. And, it can be said with certainty that unless the government beats a retreat in the matter, the political and electoral cost it will have to pay will be very heavy.
It is not too late even now. The party can regain the initiative by taking a few proactive steps. First and foremost, the government must call an all-party meeting to chalk out the future course of action. In fact, the government should have done this immediately after the verdict. Since the overwhelming sentiment, as is clear from the people’s reaction, is in favour of filing a review petition, the government must shed its intransigence. The party and the government headed by it must play the waiting game. Further steps on implementing the SC order can be – and need be taken – only after the fate of the review petitions being contemplated by various Hindu organisations is known.
That way, the LDF can also win back sections of Hindu voters displeased by the government’s hurry to implement the SC verdict. The allies, particularly the CPI, also have a key role to play. The party and its State secretary Kanam Rajendran must talk the government out of its hasty approach in a highly sensitive matter. That way lies political pragmatism. The CPI(M)-led LDF government is right now peering into the political abyss. Wisdom demands that it beat a timely retreat.
The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.
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