18 July 2019 03:06 PM



CM Vijayan Withstands the Sabarimala Storm

Firm and determined

It is perhaps a commentary on our times when a political leader is made controversial for standing up for the Constitution and the Supreme Court. And attacked with a viciousness which other politicians might have found difficult to withstand. But not so Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who has withstood to the ongoing storm over the decision by the Supreme Court to open the doors of the Sabarimala temple to women, with admirable determination and grit. And who has made it clear, despite the Congress joining hands in Kerala with the BJP and all its affiliates, that he was not going to budge on the issue unless the apex court ruled otherwise.

The issue is no longer of religion, although that of course remains the heady elixir with which our politicians have always mobilised the masses. For agendas that have more to do with hard politics and less with the scriptures and the gods. Vijayan has made it clear from the onset---even as Kerala seemed to have turned against him and the Left Front---that he was in position to defend India’s Constitution and the rule of law. And in power to ensure that the Supreme Court rulings were implemented to the letter, and hence had no choice in the matter but to do what he was doing. And that is to hold firm, arrest those who violated the ruling with violence, and wait for the storm to abate. Regardless of the vote.

Who is Vijayan? Clearly not a flunkey, but a man who knows his mind, and is not scared of leadership. To journalists in Delhi he was for long seen as the counter to the supposedly more popular A.S.Achuthanandan with the rivalry between the two being of interest within and outside the CPI-M. It was also made known, though never officially, that several West Bengal leaders were supporting the older colleague Achuthanandan while Vijayan, less dramatic and more prosaic, had a good working relationship with former general secretary Prakash Karat. Incidentally, Karat drew the ire of the Manmohan Singh government with the Congress launching a vicious attack on him for his strong stand on the US-India civilian nuclear deal that was a flagship for the Manmohan Singh government.

There were many outside the CPI-M who were disappointed that Vijayan became the Chief Minister after the Left Front won the Assembly elections in Kerala on May 25, 2016. He spent time in consolidating his position and earned wide respect with his firm handling of the rescue and relief operations after the state was submerged in unprecedented floods. Vijayan was able to establish his leadership to a point where the Chief Ministers Relief Fund for the flood affected became far more credible than all other fund gathering initiatives, and the Left Front government earned not just eyeballs but admiration and respect alongside.

Having passed the first huge challenge of a devastating national calamity after he became Chief Minister, Vijayan is now the midst of the Sabarimala temple crisis following the Supreme Court decision allowing women to enter the precints. Directing the state administration to respect the court orders, and ensure the same, Vijayan stepped into a vortex of charged sentiment, protests and anger ---laced with political opportunism. Faced with a law and order challenge that has stretched his police force beyond the limits, Vijayan has refused to budge. As he has pointed out, the initial response of both the Congress and the BJP---now together in protests against the entry of women---was to welcome the apex court ruling. The Chief Minister, however, remains optimistic that the “secular mind” of Kerala will assert itself and survive this challenge. He has repeated any number of times that his government will implement the court ruling regardless.

Vijayan has said that he will not allow the RSS and the BJP to convert Sabarimala into “another Ayodhya.” The determination is making an impact with the shell shocked Left cadres now asserting themselves, despite the continuuing protests. The Congress, not to be left behind, has launched a full fledged attack on Vijayan comparing him to Adolf Hitler. The Chief Minister has been holding press conferences, and using the social media, to make it clear to the Congress and the BJP that the government will not shift stand.

The dust has still to settle in Sabarimala with the BJP and Congress as determined to keep the fires burning as the Left Front is to stay firm. Vijayan who has been on the receiving end of torrid flak has not collapsed under the weight of the protest, and on the plus side earned the respect of Indians believing in the writ of law and rights. As for political dividends, only time will tell whether Vijayan’s confidence in the people of Kerala is well placed or mis-placed.