BJP on the back foot over Sabarimala issue as Kerala goes to polls

Kerala BJP to use Sabarimala as election issue
Traditionally, women of menstruating age or in the age group of 10 to 50 were not allowed to enter the temple as Lord Ayyappa was a "Naishtika brahmachari" (perennial celibate).

Thiruvananthapuram: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which deemed the sensitive Sabarimala temple issue as a golden opportunity to boost its electoral prospects in Kerala, is reportedly pessimistic about milking it further as the state goes to polls tomorrow. The party finds itself defensive over the issue even though it has been trumpeting only it can ensure that the traditional temple customs are protected. This diffidence arises from its inability to take effective steps to resolve the Sabarimala imbroglio despite being the ruling party at the centre.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi believed that the BJP's agitation against the apex court order throwing open the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala to young women could help his party, BJP, in Kerala. As Kerala voters get ready to vote in another Lok Sabha election on Tuesday, the BJP is, however, jittery over its failure to resolve the temple row.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been attacking the BJP by charging that it merely took advantage of the situation and did nothing to stop violation of customs in the hill shrine. The party is under more pressure after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan yesterday issued directions to declare Section 144 in Sabarimala.

The UDF, which is likely to corner most of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala as per survey reports, approached Hindu believers with questions that put BJP in a spot Did its leaders or the government intervene when the case was being heard in Supreme Court? Did they file a review petition after the verdict? Why did Modi, who brought legislation in the Triple Talaq issue, bring an ordinance on the Sabarimala issue?" The BJP is yet to answer these queries convincingly.

Verteran Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala had demanded an ordinance soon after the verdict. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and NK Premachandran, another MP representing the UDF ally RSP, too had made similar requests in the Lok Sabha. However, BJP MPs who hail from Kerala failed to make a similar request even as its leaders in Kerala portrayed themselves as victims in the struggle to save customs in Sabarimala.

Congress asserts that it did whatever it could despite being out of power both at the centre and in the state, which is ruled by the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).

Prayar Gopalakrishnan, the former president of the Travancore Devaswom Board and Congress leader, had filed a review petition against last year's Supreme Court verdict allowing the entry of young women to Sabarimala temple. On the poll trail Congress has been asking why the BJP did not do so. BJP manifesto states it will approach the Supreme Court to ensure a favourable verdict to maintain customs.

The UDF claims that BJP’s promise is empty since arguments on the review petition in Supreme Court are already complete. Modi has not able to convince the people despite his two visits, unlike Rahul Gandhi, who promised to take steps to maintain temple customs if elected to power.

BJP’s stance on the issue was questioned right from the start by G Sukumaran Nair, the general secretary of the influential Nair Service Society (NSS).

The BJP, however, tried to show the NSS, who was party in the case in Supreme Court, was aligned with it.

But after elections were declared Sukumaran Nair claimed the government did nothing to stop violation of customs at the hill shrine. The BJP was pushed on the back foot after the UDF exposed BJP's inability and the LDF too began to charge that the BJP is utilising the row only for electoral dividends.