The Kerala Assembly Election is due on April 6 and its outcome is expected to be in stark contrast to that of the 2019 Lok Sabha election — which was an unholy alliance for unruly politicking by the BJP and Congress against the backdrop of the Supreme Court judgment of September 28, 2018, on entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple.
The judgment of a five-member Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra in a 4-1 majority struck down provisions of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, which banned women between the age 10 and 50 from the temple. Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman on the bench, had a dissenting view.
The judgment was grist to the sinister-propaganda-mill of the protestors that even in “God’s own country”, God is not safe and conjured up by the highly parochial patriarchal bogey of Kerala men that celibacy and sexuality of Ayyappan at Sabarimala will be violated by the entry of nubile women (between 10 and 50 years of age). These protestors prodded their women to take to the streets en masse.
As is well-known, even in the traditionally matrilineal and matriarchal Kerala society, women, as elsewhere in India, remain “docile bodies”. The protestors overlooked the fact that the Maalikappuram temple, located at the right side of the Sabarimala main temple, is dedicated to Maalikappurathamma, who was waiting to get married by Ayyappan. This mumbo-jumbo makes the folklore about Ayyappan’s eternal celibacy and abstinence from sexuality gross, a fraud on the believers, and an affront to women as a gender category.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by Pinarayi Vijayan had no option other than to enforce the judgment. That made Sabarimala a battlefront of pro-sex and anti-sex Ayyappans. In the Mandala kalam (season of 41 days pilgrimage) in the months of December and January, all those who trek to Sabarimala are known as a fraternity of Swamis, and those who have trekked more times are addressed as guruswamies.
In the mania of the so-called devotees, the iconic Ayyappan who was embedded in the social psyche of the people underwent a tectonic shift from the hall of fame to the hall of shame, from which, if at all, only “their lordships” of the apex court could save him. However, given the judiciary’s pedantic and lackadaisical grinding like god’s mill, the how and when of the Court saving the devotees looked like a Churchillian riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Pursuant to the plethora of petitions and review petitions, the apex court constituted a larger bench of seven judges on November 14, 2019, and was later expanded to a nine-judge bench on January 13, 2020. As of now, the matter is in limbo, but the question remains: how will this play out in the Assembly Election on April 6?
That should take the readers to my article ‘Kerala’s development paradox’, published in the papers on May 13, 2018. For continuity, coherence and a broader understanding of what I had mentioned in the article as the “Kerala phenomenon”, readers might have to revisit that link as the concept cannot be explained in the limited space of this piece.
In April 2017, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government celebrated the 60th anniversary of the State’s Legislative Assembly. The centrality of the first communist government in the celebration was very important, for it was the first democratically elected communist government anywhere and it was this government that had laid the foundation for modern Kerala. In its turbulent existence of nearly 28 months, the LDF government tried to reshape Kerala’s social patterns, centring on land and society, among other things.
When the first communist ministry was formed, Vijayan, like many other children, was a victim of ‘capability deprivation‘ in the sense in which Amartya Sen has used the term: no food, no clothes, no books and so on. His caste was at the bottom of the shudra-varna of the four-fold varna classification of Hindus and he was treated as an “untouchable” by the three varnas above the shudras. He might have been made to sit outside his classroom or segregated along with other boys like him.
Vijayan thus learned the art of living in the school of hard knocks, which he effectively used in various ways for social good and well-being. He is now in the last week as the Chief Minister of the state, and given the exuberance in the LDF and the anxious voters of Kerala — the bulk of whom are educated and unemployed youth ready to do any bidding for the LDF — then he will most likely be back in power after the April 6 election.
Communism is more of an anathema today than it was in the Nehruvian era 50 years ago. The self-seeking politicians are busy pulling the country back to an archaic, illusory and imaginary Ram Rajya (by its very meaning, autocratic and theocratic), and shifting that small slice of secular India from Delhi to the blood-stained and highly communalised Ayodhya. The LDF’s future is bound to be more turbulent; in keeping with the diktats of Modi, the party will be busy engaging the vital central agencies and arraigning itself through false and fabricated cases. And the LDF team is fighting a ‘no-lose battle’.
While the Centre’s Goebbelsian propaganda and political chicanery against the LDF will continue, the state party has much to cheer as its youth is politically and socially more sensitive than Modi and Shah’s, who are moving about the country roaring in their Gujarati-Hindi, which most people won’t understand, whereas the politically committed and clear-headed Vijayan’s stern retorts have already dwarfed the former.
Before concluding, Modi and the BJP have much to learn from the exemplary style of governance by the LDF. These include how Kerala fought the heaviest deluge in nearly a century with youth, workers and fisherfolk working in tandem with an inspiring administration; how the government managed the Nipah virus outbreak and then the Covid-19 virus outbreak. Apart from these, the state government took care of the livelihood needs of thousands of workers from other states whom the Kerala media repeatedly addressed as “guest workers” – a usage that Kerala Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena appreciated on TV channels. Even the UN, WHO and other media outlets called Kerala’s work exemplary.
One final point, as Modi blabbers from a glass house with a larger-than-life image made out by his spin-doctors, presumably at the State’s expense, with hardly any press briefing over the past six years, here is a proletarian CM who conducts press briefings every day while his colleagues, particularly Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja, attends assiduously to Kerala’s health-related issues. The whole world watches her with awe and sections of the media commend her with various international accolades. Comparing the work of Vijayan, Shailaja and their team, readers might say ‘Shame on you Modi, shame on you Shah.’
About the author: P Radhakrishnan is a former professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.