Ironically, the New Year began with a bang for the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. The Women’s Wall programme launched by the LDF was acclaimed as a runaway success even by its detractors. The 620-km-long wall, constructed to protect reformation values and promote the concept of gender equality, left the LDF’s political rivals stunned while it galvanized the LDF cadres. The LDF had every reason to gloat over the unique event’s success, which could even make it to the Guinness Book of Records.

However, that was not to be. The very next day, a cock-a-hoop Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sprang an unpleasant surprise by facilitating Sabarimala darshan to two young women. Kanakadurga (44) and Bindu (42) entered the sanctum sanctorum of the holy shrine with the help of police in the early hours of January 2 to become the first women in the menstruating-age to scale the hill shrine.

Hell has broken loose since then. The young women’s visit has stirred a hornets’ nest with the BJP-RSS going berserk and unleashing violence across the state. Offices of the CPI(M) and the CPI were attacked and burnt in many places. Many cities and towns witnessed virtual street fights between the CPI(M) workers and BJP-RSS cadres. A hartal called by the Sabarimala Karma Samiti, an umbrella organization of Hindus, made life miserable for the people. Traders put up a stiff resistance refusing to down the shutters in many places, incurring the wrath of angry RSS-BJP cadres. Though police had promised protection, it was not forthcoming. As a result, traders bore the full brunt of the saffron brigade’s anger.

The government’s misstep has also infused new life into the agitation launched by the BJP-RSS, which had all but fizzled out. The saffron camp was finding it extremely difficult to sustain the stir, which had to be shifted from Sabarimala to the State Secretariat in the state capital. The BJP itself was sharply divided over the future of the stir.

It was against this backdrop that the Ayyappa darshan of the two young women came. It proved to be manna from heaven for the BJP-RSS. And they fully exploited the situation by unleashing violence across the state. Even the media personnel, especially women, were brutally attacked, forcing the former to boycott the press conferences addressed by senior BJP leaders.

The faux pas by the Vijayan government has undone the big gains the government had made by organizing the Women’s Wall programme. The government had succeeded in rebutting the opposition criticism – that the Hindus-only programme was aimed at dividing communities - by enlisting the support of a large number of Muslim and Christian women as well. But all the good work and the goodwill generated by the unique event are now at risk of being undone. If the Women’s Wall was a political masterstroke, the darshan by the young women was a political blunder of the first order, which could exact a heavy price from the LDF in terms of political and electoral support.

What passes one’s comprehension is: what was the need for rushing the young women to Sabarimala? The Supreme Court is set to hear petitions on the Sabarimala issue on January 22. The government could have waited till then. The unseemly hurry to ‘implement’ the SC verdict has created a major political crisis and a serious breakdown of law and order. Besides, the government’s monumental folly has enabled the BJP-RSS to regain lost ground. It may sound a bit harsh. But there is substance in the Congress charge that the LDF government has given the saffron camp a new lease of life by its thoughtless action.

Having said that, it must also be stated that the BJP-RSS combine has also alienated large sections of people by unleashing violence in the name of protesting against the government’s action. That no senior leader has deemed it fit to condemn the violence adds insult to injury.

How the turbulent scenario would evolve remains to be seen. Signs are that the saffron camp in Kerala is determined to keep the agitation going. (IPA Service)