Sabarimala Row: Kerala CM Shows God Must Obey Constitution Too
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: The Quint)

Sabarimala Row: Kerala CM Shows God Must Obey Constitution Too

Gods have to abide by the Constitution of a country, even if it is in God’s own country. This is what Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has reiterated by ensuring the entry of two women in their early 40s – Bindu and Kanakadurga – into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.

Kerala CM’s Gumption

In a constitutional democracy, religion and ritualistic practices or beliefs are governed by the fundamental principles of the Constitution. There are momentous occasions in our history when religious practices have had to face, and fail the constitutional test, irrespective of religion.

In this case, temple entry for Dalits is a classic example. Though injustice continues to prevail in some parts of the country, it is purely the spirit to uphold the Constitution that enforced social justice to Dalits in many other parts.

At the moment, the entry of two women, who continue to menstruate, into the Sabarimala temple is only a symbolic reassertion of those constitutional values, and the temple doors remain a barrier to several other women.

But then, social change begins with symbolic assertions. And such symbolic assertions aren’t possible without political will.

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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has demonstrated that he has both the political will and the courage to take the battle to not just the political right, but the core of the Hindu orthodoxy.

Also Read : Entry of Women in Sabarimala Unnecessary Provocative Act: Tharoor

Kerala CM Paves the Way

By doing this, he has also firmly established the debate over Sabarimala as one between the Left and the Right in Kerala, leaving the Congress’s “soft Hindutva” exposed.

In fact, Congress Member of Parliament from Trivandrum, Shashi Tharoor, had argued in an article in The Hindu after the Supreme Court verdict and subsequent protests, that “abstract notions of constitutional principle also have to pass the test of social acceptance”.

Vijayan, on the other hand, has shown that ensuring that a judgment of the Supreme Court is implemented in spirit, at least symbolically, is the stepping stone to ensuring social acceptance of the principles of the Constitution.

It may take a long time for society to accept it completely, but it starts with showing the political will and courage to take the first step.

The Congress has blatantly leaned towards the right and the state Congress unit has even decided to observe a “black day” to protest the entry of the two women into the temple.

Also Read : All You Need to Know About the Sabarimala Issue 

Congress’s Achilles’s Heel

This only exposes the Congress’s ideological weakness and its focus on ensuring that it electorally does not alienate a “Hindu” vote. Such electoral considerations make it weak and incoherent in taking on the core of Hindu orthodoxy, which, it may be argued, forms the bedrock for the rise of communal politics.

Also, by peddling the soft Hindutva stance, the Congress has granted space to the BJP in Kerala where the battle lines have firmly been ‘Congress-led UDF versus a Left front’.

Political observers in Kerala point out that this is the first time that the BJP has been able to carry out such a widespread “bandh” in the state. So far, the BJP has been a force confined to a few pockets in the state, but with the subtle support of the Nair Service Society (NSS), this issue seems to have given it a platform to build itself.

With no ambiguities in his position on the issue, Vijayan is firmly backed by progressive Hindu groups, Dalit organisations and the minorities in Kerala. He even hit out at the temple’s chief priest, and told him to resign if he found the apex court verdict unacceptable and could not implement it.

In fact, observers feel that Vijayan may have consolidated his position further, and progressive sections of the Hindu society may gravitate towards the Left, away from the Congress. He seems to have no electoral insecurities over taking on the Hindu orthodox, as they have traditionally opposed the Left.

Implications for 2019 Elections

In a way, the ideological battle is not communal vs secular, but orthodoxy vs progressive sections of the Hindu society. Vijayan has emerged as the champion of the progressives, and the Sangh Parivar, the champion of the Hindu orthodox, at least in this debate.

Arguably, in the context of the 2019 elections, this may be dangerous for the Congress as the BJP may gain a foothold at its expense.

There are those in the Congress who argue that if it had sided against the orthodox on this issue it would bolster the BJP further as the only political force representing the orthodox. It simply could not afford to alienate the orthodox in the state.

However, this issue is beyond just electoral dynamics and represents a larger ideological debate, perhaps at a national level, and in that debate the Congress seems to be missing in action and ideologically exposed.

In the social context of Kerala, over the past few decades the state has seen a rise in Hindu orthodoxy.

This may be because of a large non- resident population coupled with the fact that it is a west coast state where communal representations are pronounced. This is why, the Sabarimala issue is seen as one that could accentuate the trend. Although the RSS has been active at the grassroots level, but the BJP hasn’t had an issue to build itself on in the state. Sabarimala threatens to have that potential.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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