Thiruvananthapuram: Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s remarks on Wednesday that the party, the head of the incumbent LDF government in the state, adopted the right approach to the Sabarimala temple row in 2018, triggered a political storm with the party’s rivals in the state pointing out that this comment, and the “regret” expressed by a state minister on the government’s response to the controversy exposed the party’s “double standards”.
Speaking to a news channel in New Delhi, Yechury wondered why Kerala temple affairs minister Kadakampally Surendran expressed ‘regret’ over the “incidents” at the Sabarimala shrine in 2018 over the entry of women of all ages, as decreed by the Supreme Court that year.
“I don’t know in which context Surendran said this. As far as the party is concerned, its position on the issue remains the same. We believe in equality. The elected government was duty-bound to implement the verdict of the highest court of the country,” he said.
“The Supreme Court verdict upheld equality. The government had no other option but to implement it,” he added.
Last week, Surendran said that the protests over the entry of women devotees “pained everyone” and “shouldn’t have happened”.
Surendran said he did not want to respond to Yechury’s comments. The minister is seeking another term from Kazhakootam, on the outskirts of the state capital.
Surendran’s main opponent and BJP leader Shobha Surendra, however, emphasised that the temple would be an important poll issue. “How can he shed tears now? He presided over the brutal attack on the devotees,” she said.
Accusing the ruling party of having “double standards”, state BJP chief K Surendran told reporters: “The party’s double standards are exposed yet again. Several devotees are making regular rounds to the court for chanting hymns during the protests. Yechury has now made it clear that the party does not stand with the devotees. The devotees cannot be deceived in this manner.”
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said Yechury’s remarks showed that the minister’s regret was only aimed at garnering votes. “The party has insulted the devotees again. The state minister’s regret was only aimed at some votes.”
In a 4-1 verdict on September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the decades-old norm of not allowing women in the 10-50 age group from entering the shrine of the bachelor God. The court noted that the rule had violated the women’s right to equality and right to worship.
The state witnessed high drama and violence after at least 18 women belonging to the age group were prevented from entering the temple by protesting devotees.
Kerala also witnessed five shutdowns during the three-month pilgrimage season that year. In 2019, the court referred several revision petitions to a nine-member bench which is yet to begin hearings. The judgement itself has not been stayed, although the protests have died down because of an informal understanding that no woman will try to break the norm.
Ahead of the assembly polls, the Left Democratic Front government in the state withdrew close to 5,000 cases registered in connection with the Sabarimala agitation, last month. Its handling of the temple issue was one of the reasons behind its drubbing in the 2019 Parliamentary elections where it lost all but one of the 20 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress, its main rival in the state and the head of the UDF was the biggest beneficiary.
The party had recently instructed its leaders to refrain from making any comments on the issue.
Reacting to the comments of the minister, former chief minister Oommen Chandy of the Congress asked the government to withdraw its affidavit in the court, saying that this was one of the main reasons that led to the verdict in 2018.
“If the government is sincere enough, it has to withdraw its affidavit and ask for status quo at the temple. The affidavit filed during the regime of the last government was the main cause of all troubles.”
Polling for the 140-member assembly will be held on April 6.