War of Words: Kerala Boils on Poll Day Over Sabarimala Ayyappa

Nikhila Henry
·4-min read

On Thursday, 6 April, when Kerala polled for Assembly election 2021, it was Sabarimala Ayyappa who was the most talked about.

Even as the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party had made women’s entry into the hill shrine a contentious issue during the campaign, on the polling day, almost every noted political leader of the state ended up commenting on Ayyappa.

The comments were indicative of the general sentiment in the state surrounding entry of women into the temple.

Also Read: Kerala Polls: 16.07% Turnout Till 9:30 am, CM Vijayan Casts Vote

A Supreme Court order of 2018 had allowed women of menstruating age to enter the temple. Ayyappa is believed to be a celibate deity. Traditionally, only girls below 10-years and women above 50-years have been entering the temple.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government had implemented the order, leading to widespread protests. During the campaign, the Congress promised a legislation to “safeguard the tradition of Sabarimala”.

Also Read: TN Polls: 13.8% Voter Turnout Till 9 am, CM Palaniswami Casts Vote

LDF Slants Towards Ayyappa

Nair Service Society (NSS) General Secretary G Sukumaran Nair was the first to resurrect Sabarimala debate on Thursday, 1 April, saying, “People want a change in government. A government that upholds social justice and secularism will come to power in Kerala.”

Nair had earlier supported K Muraleedharan, Congress’ candidate in Nemom of Thiruvananthapuram district, where a tripartite fight was ongoing between the Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Close on the heels of NSS General Secretary’s statement, CPI(M) leader and caretaker Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan assured voters that the LDF will come back to power in the state.

Pinarayi Vijayan
Pinarayi Vijayan

"“Ayyappan is with those who have supported people of Kerala. Not just Ayyappan, all the Gods are with those who are on people’s side. LDF will come back to power in Kerala.”" - Pinarayi Vijayan

Ironically, the chief minister had been tight-lipped about the Sabarimala agitation during the election campaign. His statement indicates CPI(M)‘s acknowledgement of Congress’ poll campaign around Sabarimala. Across the state, the Congress had asked voters to support the “rights of believers”.

Two more CPI(M) leaders – Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Thomas Isaac – also answered media queries on Sabarimala.

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Responding to the NSS general secretary Balakrishnan said, “If Gods had votes, they would have voted for LDF. LDF will come back to power again.”

Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, however said that Sabarimala is an “old story”.

"“Food, shelter, hospitals, roads, and jobs are the current issues.”" - Thomas Isaac, Finance MinisterCongress Mocks Pinayari

The Congress’ leader Ramesh Chennithala lashed out at Pinarayi, “CPI(M) will face the ire of Ayyappan. The results will show Ayyappan’s ire,” he said. Adding on, former Defence Minister and CM of Kerala, AK Anthony said, “UDF will come back to power in Kerala. The CPI(M) handled Sabarimala badly and the voters will give them a befitting reply.”

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Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Oommen Chandy said, “Pinarayi Vijayan has no moral right to comment about Sabarimala.”

"“Who will believe Pinarayi Vijayan when he utters the name Ayyappan on the polling day? Not a single believer of Ayyappan will take his words seriously. People will stand with UDF.”" - Oommen Chandy, Former Chief Minister and Congress leader BJP Dismisses CPI(M), Cong

Bharatiya Janata Party’s leader K Surendran said that both CPI(M) and Congress do not have to speak for Ayyappa.

“In the dead of night, it was Pinarayi Vijayan’s government that allowed the entry of women into Sabarimala. At that time the Congress leaders, including AK Anthony, were silent. Now they have realised that people of Kerala are still angered by Sabarimala mishaps,” Surendran said.

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The BJP had made Sabarimala a poll topic at Nemom and Konni constituencies. Kerala recorded a polling percentage of 34.3 till 11.30 am on Thursday.

. Read more on Kerala by The Quint.War of Words: Kerala Boils on Poll Day Over Sabarimala AyyappaTN Elections: 26.29% Turnout Till 11 am, CM Palaniswami Casts Vote . Read more on Kerala by The Quint.