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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

LDF and Kerala elections 2021 | P Radhakrishnan

Saturday 1 May 2021

by Radhakrishnan Puthenveetil*

Constituencies of the Kerala Legislative Assembly

Election to the Kerala assembly was held on April 6. 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 the Congress against the backdrop of the Supreme Court judgment of 28 September 2018 on entry of women to the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple.

The judgment of a five-member constitution bench headed by the chief justice of India, Dipak Misra, in a 4-1 majority, struck down provisions of The Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 that 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, 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] and 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, are still “docile bodies”. The protestors overlooked the fact that the Maalikappuram temple, located at the right side of Sabarimala main temple is dedicated to Maalikappurathamma, waiting to get married by Ayyappan, a mumbo-jumbo which 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 enforce the judgment. That made Sabarimala a battlefront of pro-sex Ayyappans 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 as a fraternity of Swamis, and those who trekked more times are addressed as guruswamies.

In the maniac of the so-called devotees the iconic Ayyappan 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 can save him, though how and when, given the judiciary’s pedantic and lackadaisical grinding like god’s mill, is a Churchillian riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. For, pursuant to the plethora of petitions and review petitions the apex court constituted a larger bench of seven judges on 14 November 2019 which was expanded to a 9-judge bench on 13 January 2020. As of now the matter is in limbo. The question is 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 Hindu on 13 May 2018, For continuity and coherence and a broader understanding of what I mentioned there as the “Kerala Phenomenon” readers might revisit that article as that cannot be done 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 which laid the foundation for modern Kerala. In its turbulent existence of nearly 28 months, that government tried to reshape Kerala’s social patterns, centering 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. Though his caste was at the bottom of the Shudra-Varna of the four-fold Varna classification of Hindus, and treated as “untouchable” by the three Varnas above the Shudras he might have been made to sit outside the classroom or in segregation of boys like him. Vijayan thus learned the art of living in the school of hard knocks which he used effectively in various ways for the social good and well-being. He is now in the last week as CM in this ministry, and given the exuberance, in the LDF and anxious voters of Kerala, the bulk of whom are educated and unemployed youth ready to do any bidding for the LDF when most likely it will be back in power after April 6 elections.

As communism is more of an anathema now than it was in the Nehruvian era fifty years ago, and the self-seeking politicians are busy pulling the country back to an archaic, illusory and imaginary, Ramrajya (by its very meaning autocratic and theocratic) and shifting that small slice of secular India from Delhi to the blood-stained and highly communalized Ayodhya, LDF’s future is bound to be more turbulent; and in keeping with the diktat’s of Modi busy engaging the vital central agencies to arraign the LDF through false and fabricated cases, the LDF team is fighting a “no-lose battle”.

While the Center’s Goebbelsian propaganda and political chicanery against the LDF will continue the LDF has much to cheer as its youth are politically and socially more sensitive than the Modis and Shahs moving about the country roaring in their Gujarati-Hindi which most people won’t understand, whereas the politically committed and clear-headed Vijayans’ stern retorts have already dwarfed the former.

Before concluding Modi and 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; Nipah Virus Outbreak, and most importantly the handling of Covid-19 virus, apart from taking care of the livelihood needs of thousands of workers from other states whom the Kerala media repeatedly addressed as “guest workers” – a usage which Kerala Chief Electoral Officer, Teeka Ram Meena appreciated on TV channels; among other agencies the UN and WHO and the media as exemplary for other states in India and other countries for that matter. One final point, as a Modi blabbers from a glass house with a larger-than-life image made out by his spin-doctors presumably at state expense, with hardly any press briefing in six years, here is a proletarian CM, conducting press briefings every day, while his colleagues, particularly Kerala health minister KK Shailaja attending assiduously to Kerala’s health-related issues with the whole world watching her with awe, and sections of the media commending her to various international accolades. Comparing the work of Vijayan, Shailaja, and their team, readers might say shame on you Modi, shame on you Shah.

*[Author: P Radhakrishnan was a professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies; Email: prk1949[at] ]

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