After maintaining a pregnant silence for the most part of the campaign, NSS general secretary Sukumaran Nair chose the voting day to revive the fears of the faithful.
Like he has never said before, Nair called for a change of government. He openly, and quite defiantly, junked the NSS's policy of equidistance.
"My belief is that people want a change of government in Kerala. The faithful have been upset for some time. It still persists," Nair said after casting his vote at a booth in Changanassery.
Nair's open call to defeat the LDF forced Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to shun his silence on the faith issue. "Ayyappan and the entire pantheon of gods are with the LDF. This is because the LDF was with the people in times of crises," the Chief Minister said after voting. "My understanding is that gods have always stood by those who had worked for the people," he added.
The former CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan responded in a tongue-in-cheek manner. "If the gods had votes, theirs would have been for the LDF. This is a government that had protected all faiths, Muslim, Hindu and Christian. It has brought about material changes to all places of worship. In fact, it was under this government that Sabarimala witnessed development like never before," Kodiyeri said.
CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran, however, sounded a bit taken aback by Sukumaran Nair's comments. "No other community leader had ever made such a statement," he said. “This shows that he had clear political preferences,” Kanam said, a reference to the NSS's oft-repeated policy of equidistance.
However, the Chief Minister's comments worked as a cue for the opposition to unleash a verbal assault on the LDF government for its perceived sins in Sabarimala. It was as if they were waiting for an excuse to speak about Sabarimala.
Former defence minister A K Antony was uncharacteristically aggressive. He wanted Pinarayi to apologise to Lord Ayyappa. "The Chief Minister should actually be saying 'Swami Ayyappa, please forgive me and my government for creating so much trouble in Sabarimala by showing an ugly haste to implement the Supreme Court verdict'. Only then can we say that his latest comments are sincere," Antony said.
Antony also said that without introducing legislation to protect faith, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa' chant (on Good Friday day in Pathanamthitta) was a big sham.
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the Chief Minister's new belief in Sabarimala was born out of the fear of defeat. Chandy reiterated that it was the Pinarayi Vijayan government that had replaced the affidavit filed by the UDF government with a new affidavit that supported the entry of women into Sabarimala. "They have not withdrawn this affidavit. It is still before the Supreme Court. When we asked them to withdraw it, he gave a very indifferent reply. The Chief Minister has made a U-turn fearing voters," Chandy said.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that Pinarayi's overtures to the faithful were "too little, too late". "He should have thought of it when they tried to sneak in women into Sabarimala in police uniforms," Tharoor said.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan laughed at the statement of Vijayan and said it's high time that the CPI-M be wound up as their ideology has been thrown out of the window.
Law Minister A K Balan has filed a complaint with the Election Commission against NSS general secretary Sukumaran Nair's statement. The statement was in violation of the code of conduct, the complaint said.
A complaint has also been filed against Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala for his statement CM Pinarayi will incur the wrath of God.