Poor statecraft, obstinacy worsen Sabarimala issue
News analysis

Poor statecraft, obstinacy worsen Sabarimala issue


Lack of political will coupled with poor statecraft is exemplified in the Pinarayi Government’s handling of the Sabarimala issue, giving leeway to others and nudging people to the streets in the name of tradition.

A day before the shrine is to open for the monthly pujas and a month away from the annual pilgrimage season, things are going out of hands for the Government with devotees camping at the Nilackal base camp and threatening to keep tab of vehicles to ensure that no woman in the 10-50 age group undertakes the pilgrimage. This blockade threat is on protest against the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to worship at the shrine, and has started showing symptoms of violence.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's press conference on the issue on Tuesday prior to his Gulf visit to get funds for rebuilding Kerala presented a picture of scant respect to people, however right or wrong they be. His enthusiasm to have the Supreme Court verdict implemented etches an image of the leader of a party that has ultimate faith only in the court. Let all forget that his party had on earlier occasions lampooned judges for verdicts of ‘bourgeoisie courts’.

The leader who could pull up a Sub-Collector for removing a cross put up illegally on encroached land in Idukki sometime ago even when a vast majority of various church sections said they had nothing to do with the said cross, left even non-believers like him surprised. His claim then was more devotional than the sternest of believers that the cross was a ‘symbol of faith’. He proved his 'mentor’ Karl Marx wrong for saying “religion is the opium of man”.

Poor statecraft gets clearer when in his earlier press conference when he spoke about the need for implementing the Sabarimala verdict, backing his arguments on the reformation movement in Kerala and the Guruvayur and Vaikom satyagrahas for temple entry for all irrespective of caste. But all this crumbled when he said that his Government was withdrawing the permits for breweries and distilleries on grounds that the Government was not for creating controversies and favoured 'unity’ at a time when the State was struggling to come out of the impact of the recent devastating floods.

But he has had ‘selective amnesia’ as the whole of Pamba, the last base camp where Sabarimala pilgrims gather to start the trek to the hill shrine, has been totally devastated by the flood. From infrastructures like resting places and bathing ghats to toilets and washrooms, a good part of that was taken away by the flood waters, leaving only heaps of sand. His reason to pull out of the brewery issue would have been appropriate here.

He would have been justified had he said that in these difficult times when there is little infrastructure left, the Government will need more time to allow more devotees, including the women visiting the shrine in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict. And given the situation in Pamba now, it is impossible to hold a huge pilgrim flow. Pinarayi could then have blunted all opposition he is now facing, even from his comrades in the Travancore Devaswom Board. That explains why the last bid by the board for talks with the Pandalam royal family, Sabarimala tantri (head priest) and other devotee organisations failed on Tuesday.

There was expectation that communal passions that could flare up because of the protests would be checked during the devaswom talks. But that has not happened. Hindu organisations with silent support of other religious outfits that fear the far-reaching consequences of the verdict, have now marched to the base camp at Nilackal and threatened to move to the Pamba tomorrow. Tension in the name of religion which has never cropped up in Kerala may see its ugly head surface.

Heavens never fell when people of all castes entered temples years ago nor when women entered the Sani’ temple in Maharashtra. Instead of working to reach a consensus on this sensitive subject, the Pinarayi Government tried to act in haste. We should only hope that the affront stance of the government is not repaid through violence. Let better sense prevail in both the camps so that the State is saved.