Thiruvananthapuram: A spontaneous response in favour of the faithful by CPI-M candidate for Manjeshwar has brought the Sabarimala issue right back into the election narrative, creating a piquant situation for the ruling Left Democratic Front.
The Left Front, which badly burned its fingers over the issue of women's entry into the Sabarimala hill shrine, was keen not to let it come into focus in the by-elections to five constituencies, considered crucial for the Pinarayi Vijayan government to re-establish its credentials.
But in a surprise answer to media person's questions, the CPI-M candidate Sankar Ray declared that he was a firm believer in Sabarimala's restrictive customs and traditions, which debarred women of reproductive age from visiting the temple, whose deity is a proclaimed celibate.
In a fire-fighting operation, the state party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan held a press conference to clarify that Sabarimala is not an issue in the by-elections, but opposition Congress and BJP were quick to seize the opportunity and insisted that they would keep the issue alive in the campaign.
In fact, the two parties challenged Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to clarify his stand on the CPI-M candidate's candid acknowledgement.
The undue haste shown by the state government to implement the Supreme Court verdict, striking down the ban on the entry of women to Sabarimala, was attributed to the egoistic approach of the chief minister. The ruling Left Front had to pay dearly for the government's most unpopular decision to organise trips by women pilgrims to the hill shrine as its candidates suffered complete rout in the Lok Sabha elections.
The opposition Congress is rubbing salt to the communists' wounds, by claiming that when they come to power next time, which happens as a routine in Kerala's typical coalition politics, the first step of their government would be to enact a law that will again ban the entry of women into Sabarimala.
Even as the Supreme Court verdict completed its first year last month, the CPI-M had publicly acknowledged that the party had erred in its judgment over the entry of women to Sabarimala and was taking great pains to explain that the communists were on the side of the believers.
By K Raveendran