The events of the past few days in Kerala have set things in motions which will have consequences for years to come. Too many things have happened in a very short period of time and now that the first chapter of the Battle for Sabarimala is over with a definitive victory for the devotees, it’s time that we look back on several events of great importance which holds great sociopolitical significance for the future of the state as well as for the whole nation.
The Judicial overreach
The Sabarimala verdict has immensely dented the credibility of the highest court of the country. Certain judgments in the past had already made citizens of the country wary of the court and verdict that outlawed the tradition of Lord Ayyappan at Sabarimala was the final nail in the coffin. Hindus openly revolted against the verdict braving all manners of threats, arrests and atrocities by the state machinery. And in the end, they emerged with a resounding victory. The message to the Indian Judiciary was clear, unwanted meddling with Temple traditions will not be tolerated and will be resisted tooth and nail.
The Communist overreaction
The manner in which Kerala Police attacked peaceful devotees left a bitter taste in many people’s mouth, even supporters of the communist party. The zeal with which the communist party in power sought to implement the Supreme verdict is practically unheard of, especially in cases where religious practices are involved. There have been many instances when state governments have stayed court verdicts for fear of a law and order situation. However, in this particular instance, the Communist party was hell bent on employing every weapon under its arsenal to ensure that the sacred abode of the Deity was defiled.
We can only speculate on the reasons that motivated the communist party to act and behave in the manner that it did. But what appears certain is that there was some massive miscalculation on the part of the Pinarayi Vijayan led Left government in Kerala. It appears evident that Pinarayi is under the impression that the people involved with the protests do not belong to his core votebank. He likely believes that, by and large, those involved with the protests are associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Thus, in his mind, the crackdown on the devotees was action against political opponents.
As I have said earlier, it appears that Pinarayi is gravely mistaken. Given the massive magnitude of the protests, it appears highly unlikely that the protests were driven by any political organization. Moreover, there have been reports of communist party workers resigning from the party in revolt against the police crackdown on devotees. There is widespread resentment against the manner in which the state government conspired to desecrate the Temple by awarding protection to activists who clearly did not seek entry due to some outpouring of devotion towards Lord Ayyappan.
Some people in the Left government have obviously sensed the public mood and are trying to backtrack from the initial bravado that the government put up. At one point, Kadakampally Surendran, the State Devaswom (religious trusts) minister, stated that the Temple will not be allowed to become a place where activists can come and showcase their power. It was only after the devotees had prevented two women from entering the Temple after a massive confrontation with the Police.
Pinarayi Vijayan, however, a hallmark of the manner in which the ideologically blinded lose their sight of reality, refuses to see the writing on the wall. On Tuesday, he chose to attack the Tantri instead. He is reported to have said, “Ayyappan is believed by a section of the devotees as a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (eternal celibate). It’s true. There are beliefs that some deities are celibate. At such temples, mostly in northern India, the priest must also be celibate. That’s the truth. He must not marry. You all know the ‘celibate’ status of our priest here (at Sabarimala). I am not just talking about being occupied with a household. He has crossed that to enter a state of prostitution. Isn’t that what happened at Ernakulam?” He did not stop there and claimed that the Temple was the property of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and not to any individual entity or family, an obvious dig at the Tantri and the Pandalam Royal Family who have an intimate relationship with Lord Ayyappan.
The Communist party, thus far, is coming across as extremely heartless and arrogant. It appears that Pinarayi Vijayan, the committed communist, was beaten by the one thing that the ideologically committed materialists cannot entirely comprehend: the will of the Devas and the power of Religion.
The conduct of the Bharatiya Janata Party
Plenty of people on social media have been pleading with the central government to intervene in the matter. They hoped that Prime Minister Modi would at least issue a statement on the distressing events that transpired in Kerala. However, they were left hugely disappointed when Narendra Modi maintained a stoic silence on the issue. Things hit rock bottom when a senior leader of the BJP suggested that the center should provide military and paramilitary forces to ensure that women have access to the Temple. All in all it appeared that the BJP was failing devotees in Kerala spectacularly. It is also pertinent to remember that the party initially appeared to support the Supreme Court verdict.
The situation on the ground could not be more different. Local leaders of the party were hyperactive in coordinating with devotees and others to ensure that the sanctity of the Temple was preserved. By all accounts, BJP leaders in Kerala conducted themselves honourably in the whole matter and engaged with the devotees to register significant protests in the state. There have been reports of BJP leaders even spending sleepless nights in defence of Sabarimala.
The state unit of the BJP has indeed conducted itself with the public’s wishes in mind and done the party immense favours in the state. However, despite their contribution, they cannot be credited with spearheading the protests as the party came out in support of devotees only after it became clear that public mood was greatly against the verdict. In the end of it all, it would be fair to state that despite the silence from the senior leadership of the party, the local leaders ensured that the party earned great respect in the eyes of the devotees.
Political Implications of the Battle for Sabarimala
It is still too early to ascertain the magnitude of the impact the entire series of events will have on electoral politics. However, one thing is for certain. The events will undeniably undermine the communist party in Kerala, the extent is unclear as of now. Until the events that transpired at Sabarimala in October, the Left’s hold over power appeared extremely secure. However, now, all political equations have been thrown into chaos.
The extent to which the BJP will benefit electorally from the circumstances will be entirely dependent on the contribution of the local leaders as of now. However, the more Pinarayi blames the RSS and the BJP, the more it will be beneficial for the BJP.
The Sabarimala protests may well turn out to be the Singur moment for communists in Kerala. Even at Singur, the writing was the wall but the bull-headed approach of the party led to its total decimation in West Bengal. Whether that fate awaits the Left in Kerala we will have to wait and see but assuredly, the BJP has now gained a strong foothold in the southern state.
Heroes of the Battle
Undoubtedly, the real heroes of the Battle for Sabarimala were the devotees of Lord Ayyappa who have definitively won the first round. It was entirely the initiative of the devotees themselves which forced political organizations to get themselves involved with the protests. A great deal of credit goes to the women of all ages who came out onto the streets to protect the abode of Lord Ayyappa. The mothers, daughters and sisters of Kerala have earned great Punya with their conduct during these troubled times.
In every battle, there are certain warriors who deserve a special mention. Activists from People for Dharma have done a remarkable job of conducting the initial protest marches and coordinating with the Royal Family for the same. Anjali George and Padma Pillai deserve a great deal of credit for their unwavering contribution to the resistance.
Padma Pillai was even charitable enough to walk into debates with people who were visibly hostile to her to explain her position and yet appear cool and collected throughout the whole ordeal. One unlikely hero to have emerged from the series of events is Rahul Easwar. He was only recently granted bail following his arrest on the 17th of October due to his involvement with the protests. He may go back to spouting Gandhian inanities sooner rather than later but he stood up when it mattered and for that, he has earned a great deal of respect even from people who were earlier not fond of him. And he has proved through his actions that he is a much greater man than those of us who have mocked him harshly in the past, albeit for fair reasons.
Another hero of the battle was IG Sreejith, the police officer who escorted two activists in their bid to desecrate the Temple on Friday. Later, he could be seen weeping profusely at the Temple while apologizing to the Deity for his conduct.
It was perhaps one of the most iconic moments of the protests. It is quite evident that he was caught in a very difficult position. But even then, unlike previous occasions when the Police appeared to bulldoze through devotees, IG Sreejith was reportedly conversing with the devotees about the situation and trying to persuade them insisting that he, in his personal capacity, had to uphold the law. Eventually, he did not resort to committing atrocities on the devotees and instead escorted the activists back. Later, at the Temple, as per some videos circulating on WhatsApp, the police officer could be seen shaking hands with the devotees and sharing a smile with them, presumably after he had wept and apologized to the Deity.
The Nasty Media
The mainstream media has demonstrated yet again why so many Indians consider them to be the enemy of the people. Their conduct during the protests was shameful, disgusting and nauseating. They were surely aware that the crux of the whole protests was disallowing any female entry into the Temple. Despite knowing the odds that were at stake, the bigwigs in their air-conditioned rooms allowed their junior female colleagues to walk into the chaos of the protests without considering the danger they were putting them through.
The entire mainstream media has become one large activist block who frequently forget how to do their job properly. They completely sided with the activists who sought to desecrate the Temple ignoring the atrocities that were perpetrated on the devotees. They painted devotees as riot mongers and barbaric without giving due credence to their side of the story and right from the onset, it was quite evident that their ideological priorities would mar their entire coverage of the events.
Arnab Goswami, especially, appeared to have a personal vendetta against the devotees of Lord Ayyappa. He was railing and screaming in his newsroom like the monotheist zealots of yore who were driven into a maddening rage affronted by the fact that the pagans were defending themselves against attempts to defile their faith.
There was one media channel, Janam TV, which earned a great deal of affection from the devotees for their coverage of the protests. In what is an extremely rare sight, devotees could be seen hugging and kissing and hoisting the Janam TV journalist up on their shoulders while celebrating their victory. It is pretty hard to watch the video without a smile on one’s face.
Victory celebration at #Sabarimala
Devotees kiss and hoist #JanamTV reporters for standing by them and reporting the whole truth while other Malayalam channels toed the Marxist line.#SaveSabarimalaTradition pic.twitter.com/slCnnvVrrz
— Spartan (@PartyVillage017) October 22, 2018
Lord Ayyappa enters the National Consciousness
The greatest outcome of the entire series of events was the fact that Lord Ayyappa has definitively entered the national consciousness and united Hindus from all across the country in a manner that has not been since the Ram Janambhoomi Movement. On social media, and elsewhere, it was quite obvious that the attack on the Sabarimala Temple had resonated profoundly with every Hindu who was frustrated and angry with the manner our festivals were being targeted.
Therefore, when images of the police crackdown on devotees surfaced, all Hindus united to voice their vigorous support to the devotees in their fight. Social media was overflowing with chants of ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa’ and it was regardless of any regional divide. North, South, East, West did not matter. The only thing that mattered was the preservation of the sanctity of Sabarimala and everyone prayed fervently to that end.
There were a lot of factors that brought about such an outcome. Hatred for the mainstream media, hatred for the Judiciary, dissatisfaction with the political parties, Hindus have felt hard done by the entire state machinery for quite a while. The attack on Sabarimala was the last straw. It won’t be surprising at all if Hindus from the North and other parts of the country start observing the 41-day Vrat and other related rituals to travel to Sabarimala for the pilgrimage.
Going forward, the devotees of Lord Ayyappa have shown the way for Hindus in the rest of the country on how to organize peaceful protests to achieve our ends. Anyone who says the protests were not overwhelmingly by and large peaceful is deliberately setting impossible standards for Hindus.
Until there’s an ordinance from the central government, it appears highly unlikely that the state government will relent on their doomed pursuit to implement the Supreme Court verdict.
Pinarayi’s statements have made it clear, he sees the protests as a political attempt to undermine the Left government in Kerala and will respond to it politically with the might of the state behind him. As per reports, four more women have approached the court for protection to visit the Temple.
When the Temple reopens on the 5th of November, the Temple will once again be turned into a battleground. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will hear the review petitions on the 13th of November. The battle has been won but the War is not yet over.