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Sabarimala crisis- What lays ahead

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With the temple due to be opened from today for the annual season that last for roughly 56 days, Kerala is bracing itself for a new battle as the shrine will remain open for almost 2 months from today. That, “right-to-pray” activist Trupti Desai from Maharashtra who landed early in the morning today in Kerala to enter Sabarimala has been held back by protesting devotees right at Cochin airport itself for more than 9 hours gives us an idea on how intense is the situation in Kerala.

After Supreme court deferred its the date of hearing the review petitions to 22nd Jan, an all party meeting was called up yesterday by the ruling CPM Govt for an amicable solution to end the Sabarimala deadlock concerning age specific women entry. However, the meeting failed miserably and BJP and Congress leaders walked out for lack of any assurance from the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Interestingly, for CM Pinarayi Vijayan, this was the last and a god sent opportunity to emerge out as a statesman. The ball was in his court, he not just had Supreme Court order in his favour, but also enough time. Legal experts unanimously opined that a request to defer implementation of the verdict citing readiness and lack of infrastructure could well be considered by the apex court, taking into account the fact that the state is still struggling to come out of the devastating flood that hit them in August. Had Pinarayi Vijayan taken a populist decision, he would have, with just one masterstroke won the hearts of millions of Hindus of his state breaking all political barriers. But as expected, the Staunch Stalinist in him decided to go the other way.

Perhaps what Pinarayi Vijayan lost  was a a chance to garner a moral consent from the public by delaying the implementation of Supreme Court verdict which is completely missing now when one looks at his haste and unrelenting approach. This high-handedness has left millions of Ayyappa devotees to believe that their CM is not true to his intentions.

The extend of Hindu backlash is best reflected in the tectonic shift in TV viewership pattern in Kerala during these days.  Janam TV,  the only right leaning news channel in Kerala which routinely struggled at 8th or 9th in the past has regularly started topping the BARC viewership rating for the last 3 weeks. This is history in the making BJP as far as Kerala politics is concerned.

Pinarayi Vijayan’s political opponents can have a reason to feel happy of the fact that he has some seriously short sighted political advisers around him. Had he played his cards cleverly, he could have reduced his political opponents into mute spectators in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections due later next year. A rejuvenated and stronger BJP/RSS who now seem to enjoy popular support has made it clear that they will not allow the temple tradition to be broken. Along with the head priest and the royal families of the temple, a reluctant Congress too has joined the bandwagon.

Now what waits ahead for Pinarayi led communist Govt in Kerala? Latest information tells us that his police brigade may help enter young women from today when the temple opens. There are reports that  with an intention of neutralizing and imprisoning protesters more effectively, the Govt has allegedly put up jails and even ready to pronounce magistrates at the shrine itself on the hilltop. Many age old rituals followed by devotees at the shrine are reportedly curtailed citing “security concerns”. Decrees like devotees cant stay back in the temple after prayer, hotel will be closed after temple timings etc smacks of dictatorial rudeness. Whats most appalling is the fact that for the first time perhaps in India, devotees now have to get an “NOC” from their local police station to travel to Sabarimala!!

Despite turning the sacred temple into a security fortress, the communist govt seems to be missing something big here. Unlike when the temple opened only for a few days last month, today marks the start of the annual pilgrimage and the beginning of mass pilgrims from other southern states too. While the no. of pilgrims were in thousands last month, it will now be in lakhs every day from all of south India and also many from other Indian states too. Can the Kerala Govt afford a  riot situation that involves pilgrims from other states? Does Pinarayi Govt own the political bandwidth of unleashing his police force on Tamil and Telugu and Kannada Pilgrims?  Does he think the state governments of other southern states will remain quite in case of a large scale police brutality on their people?  We have seen in the past during Mullaperiyar crisis when Kerala buses and people were attacked in other states in response to other state Sabarimala pilgrims being attacked in Kerala. Unfortunately, the Kerala govt is pushing the state into a state of undeclared emergency which if left unchecked can cascade to other states as well.

What could possibly the state machinery do in an event of such a large scale crisis that may span all of south India?  Are we looking at an eminent central Govt intervention then?

Officially as of now, around 700 women age between 10-50  have registered online for visiting the temple in coming days. With swords being drawn from all sides, its a rare tense days awaiting for all in God’s own country.

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