The times are a changing. The irreverence of the Kerala voter that began with the Pala by-poll in September is more evident now—throwing up surprising but delightful results in the five by-elections. Even as the details of the voting patterns need to be examined in detail, it seems that Kerala’s discerning voter has gone for the best candidate in the fray disregarding the usual caste and religious factors that come into play.
The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) stormed Congress strongholds—Vattiyoorkvau and Konni—and chipped away at another—Ernakulam—reducing the UDF’s winning margins in the commercial capital. If the ruling LDF is gloating over these two wins, they have much to worry about, for they lost their fortress, Aroor, to Congress candidate Shanimol Usman. Aroor has been with the Left from 1967 except for a decade (1996-2006) when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) stalwart K R Gowriamma, thrown out of her own party, joined hands with the Congress-led United Democratic Front. As for the BJP, although it held on to its second place in Manjeshwar, its vote share declined considerably in Vattiyoorkavu, where it had finished a close second in the 2016 Assembly elections (and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections) on the back of the candidature of Kummanam Rajasekharan, to slip to the third place.
The result in the Vattiyoorkavu Assembly segment in Thiruvananthapuram makes for an interesting case study. Though the Nair Service Society (NSS), a Hindu social organization, openly campaigned for the UDF candidate K Mohankumar, the majority Nair community seemed disinclined to do the NSS bidding. The fact that LDF’s V K Prasanth, former mayor of Thriruvananthapuram, who is not from the Nair community, won by over 14,465 votes shows that caste arithmetic can be countered by the candidate’s individual appeal.
The two best-known faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala—Veteran O Rajagopal and the vibrant Kummanam Rajasekharan—are fondly addressed “Rajettan” by the party’s sympathisers. To understand the influence Kummanam Rajasekharan wields on Kerala’s right-wing and Hindu organisations, one needs to take into account his activism for the past 40 years.
From being the leader of the Nilakkal agitation in the early eighties to being the head of the Hindu Aikya Vedi, Kummanam ji is one of the most well-recognised ‘Hindu faces’ in the state. As someone who knows him closely, Kummanam ji is truly a venerable figure who is genuinely pluralistic and keeps close ties with all communities. As voters of Thiruvananthapuram, we were genuinely torn between Kummanam ji and global citizen Shashi Tharoor ji during the Lok Sabha elections. Dr Shashi Tharoor too has acknowledged the regard he has for Kummanam ji on many occasions.
People like me have respectfully criticised Kummanam ji that he should have resigned the post of Mizoram Governor and come back to lead the Sabarimala protests in the wake of the Supreme Court order last year. Maybe, the party did not give consent—else, the Kummanam Chettan we all know, would have happily served the cause of the temple, than remain a Governor elsewhere.
Last December, days after Kerala’s ruling Left Front government took the initiative to form the ‘Navodhana Samrakshana Samiti’, an umbrella council of community leaders from the Hindu fold, in the name of re-enactment of the Kerala Renaissance Movement of the early twentieth century, I spent some time with Dr M G S Narayanan, eminent historian and public intellectual, at his home in Calicut.
The public debates at the time focused on the urgent need for a second wave of reforms, in order to counter the communal and patriarchal forces that were seen to be reasserting their might in Kerala society. Naturally, discussions with M G S Narayanan focused on contemporary politics and the efforts being taken by the Left government, including the formation of this umbrella council, to bring to life the spirit of renaissance that had inspired Malayali community from the late 19th century.
The grand spectacle of a ‘Women’s wall’ that stretched across the Arabian Sea coast from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram had just been concluded, adding a riot of colour to the Kerala coastline. In the wee hours of the next day, two young Malayali women entered the sannidhanam of Lord Ayyappa’s temple in Sabarimala, in a jubilant declaration of women’s empowerment in this “bastion of gender discrimination.” All these incidents received much international media attention and players in these actions gained celebrity in certain sections of Kerala society.
If Yogendra Yadav’s desire to see the death of the Congress party had dismayed many in India, a wishful whisper from an ardent Communist follower, to see the complete annihilation of the Communist Party of India (M), had shocked me no end too. As we stood on the pavement with the traffic blaring around us, I was unsure if I had heard it right. With unbelieving rounded eyes, I strained my ears to catch every word, he seemed to nod that I heard him correct: “The Communist Party is no longer what it was,” came another sad whisper. “It’s only a shadow of its former self.”
Though pre-poll surveys indicated that the Left parties had little hope in Kerala in the Lok Sabha elections, I had totally dismissed this conversation from my mind till the results started pouring in. The Left in Kerala was completely routed way more than what their worst enemies would have imagined.
An unmistakable message from the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in India is the emergence of a cosmopolitan Hindu identity cutting across the seemingly insurmountable barriers of caste and regional diversities. This is a phenomenon that has evaded the many waves of Hindu resurgence in the past, and its impact on Indian politics in the coming days would be substantial. The politics of secularism is vacating the centre stage, leaving the scene to the rising Hindutva crescendo.
However, it is assumed in political circles that Kerala successfully bucked the dominant national trend, resisting the onslaught of the Hindutva forces. Kerala definitely threw up a very interesting outcome, vastly different from the national scenario. A tally of 19 seats for the Congress-led United Democratic Front and, a solitary win for the CPI (M) with the BJP winning none, it does look like a resounding victory for secular forces.
In February, I was in Thiruvananthapuram for nearly a week for personal and work-related stuff. My last port of call was writer Paul Zacharia’s apartment on a Sunday evening. When I called him at short notice and requested for an audience, Zacharia initially tried to shake me off—only to finally agree to talk to me for 30 minutes. He was busy giving final touches to his now released debut English fiction—A secret history of compassion. My freewheeling conversation with the writer ended with some political chatter. And I asked him the inevitable: Which candidate was he supporting in the general elections as a voter enrolled in Thiruvananthapuram?
Pat came the reply, “Shashi Tharoor”.
Was he worried about the prospects of the BJP candidate winning if the secular votes are divided? I persisted.
More than a decade after the Indian Young Lawyer’s Association filed a petition seeking lifting of ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, a three-member bench of Supreme Court (SC) headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, referred the case to a Constitution Bench on Friday. The petition assailing the Rule 3 (b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, was filed in the year 2006 and the rule has been flayed on the grounds of violation of right to equality and discrimination on the basis of gender.
On March 7, 2008, the Court referred the case to a three-member bench. A hearing in the case was held only on January 11, 2016. In February 2017, the Court said it might refer the case to a Constitution Bench. Following it, the three-member bench including CJI Dipak Misra, Justice R. Bhanumathi and Justice Ashok Bhushan referred the case to a Constitution Bench on October 13, 2017.
By Rahul Easwar
(A response to K. Surendran’s stand that women should be allowed in Sabarimala.)
I have immense respect for Sri Surendran. He is one of the most vibrant orators and political leaders Kerala has, along with Sakhav Swaraj, Sri R.V. Rajesh, and the Muslim League’s Sri KM Shaji.
In a recent historic judgment, the Bombay High Court declared that women can enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah, located at the southern part of Mumbai. This place of importance contains the tomb of Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.
Through its judgment, the High Court lifted the ban that prevented women from entering the sanctum sanctorum. The Court said that if women were banned from entering the Dargah, it would be in violation of Articles 14, 15 and 25. However, following a plea by the Haji Ali Trust, the order has been stayed.
The Bombay High Court judgment has greater significance when compared to the issue of women’s entry in Sabarimala. In both the cases, women are being prevented from worshipping the deity. However, experts say that Sabarimala is a place where the deity is perennially celibate, and so the cases aren’t the same.
The debate on the entry of women in Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple has reached its next stage as the ruling government’s majority party CPI (M) has come out in support of it. The previous Oommen Chandy-led UDF government’s decision to not allow women devotees in Sabarimala, as it would be against centuries-old beliefs and rituals, is likely to be changed by the new government.
Surprisingly, even last week, the State government in the Supreme Court had stuck to the UDF government’s decision. The current stand by the CPI (M) has put the government under immense pressure, as rejecting the party’s stand may give the people a feeling that the party and the government have two different stands.
As per tradition, menstruating women are not allowed to enter the temple. When the Supreme Court asked the previous government to submit an affidavit mentioning its stand, the UDF decided to not allow temple access to female devotees.