Sabarimala women’s entry re-opens BJP’s ‘golden chance’ in Kerala

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Protests have broken out against the entry of women at Sabarimala

After waiting patiently for a breakthrough, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prayers in Kerala seem to have been finally answered in the form of a crucial development in the Sabarimala temple standoff with two women entering the temple at night under police protection.

The BJP has already kicked off a massive campaign to exploit the emotional fallout of the incident that has caused outrage among the considerable number of Ayyappa devotees.

The perceived outrage has reinvigorated workers of the BJP and other Hindu organizations and sent them to the streets in protests across the state. Traffic movement and commerce has been impacted throughout the state.

Depending on how the BJP plays the issue, the incident could prove to be the party’s ‘Ram Temple’ in Kerala, helping in finally expand its base outside its traditional upper caste bastion. Sabarimala pilgrimage is more popular among the intermediate and ‘lower castes’ within the traditional Hindu hierarchy in the state.

WRITING ON THE WALL

It was at 3:45 AM today that the women — Bindu from Koyilandi near Calicut and Kanakadurga from Malappuram — entered the temple, accompanied by policemen in plain clothes.

The visit was kept top secret by the police.

In preparation for the entry, the women were put up as ‘the guests of the inspector general’ of police.

The women’s houses have been given special protection and the two are being whisked away by the police to a safe place.

The move is seen as the result of the confidence that the Left Front felt after seeing a robust response to its ‘Women’s Wall’ program yesterday.

The Women’s Wall program was used by the CPIM as a way to gauge support among its voters for its position on allowing women to enter the temple. The relatively strong response — as seen in the robust turnout — seems to have emboldened the party to push ahead with implementing the Supreme Court decision.

The incident marks the first time that women have been able to enter the temple after a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra.

Earlier, the police had been dissuading activists who tried to enter the temple in the name of law and order issues.

FALLOUT FOR CPI-M, CONGRESS

While the incident can potentially offer big benefits to the BJP, depending on how adept they are at exploiting it, it remains to be seen as to who will end up paying for BJP’s gains.

Given that the Left Front gets about 70% of its votes from Hindus and the Congress gets about 70% of its votes from non-Hindus, simple arithmetic would suggest that the Left would see greater political damage if the BJP is able to fan the sense of outrage among believers.

However, Hindu communities in Kerala also have a substantial section of non-believers, atheists and ‘progressives’ who tend to support the Left.

About half of the Left’s Hindu vote base is estimated to belong to this class and such voters are unlikely to be influenced by the event.

However, the other half — or about 35% of the total Left vote — could be susceptible to a sophisticated emotional campaign by the BJP.

The move could also hasten the shift of upper caste Hindu votes away from the Congress. It is estimated that about 50% of traditional Congress voters from Hindu communities in Kerala have already made the shift to the BJP camp over the last decade or so.

Seeing the possibility, the Congress has been making noises against allowing women to enter the temple. However, it has kept away from street protests due to a directive from the central leadership, allowing the BJP to emerge as the ‘voice of the believer’ in this case.

If the BJP plays its cards right, it could raise its vote share from a measly 6% to around 20% with the help of this incident. However, the party is known for blowing its chances by adopting extremist positions, which fail to sync with the moderate mentality of Kerala population.

Instead of appearing sincere, BJP’s stance on this matter has often come across as cynical to the politically sophisticated voter of Kerala.

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