Read The Hindu Notes of 11th December 2018 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 11th December 2018
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 11th December 2018
  • Ascent to the temple of democracy

    The opposition to the Sabarimala order is reflective of a wider gender inequality in Malayali society

  • Kerala’s reputation as a society that has evolved to an exceptional degree may have taken a bit of a beating. The reputation itself has been built on the strides made in the sphere of development, by now internationally recognised to be human development as reflected in the health and education status of a people.
  • The Kerala paradox
  • When it was first noticed over four decades ago, Kerala’s perceived uniqueness had stemmed from the realisation that it was among India’s poorest States. To have achieved fairly high human development despite relative poverty was considered noteworthy. What was not apparent in the usual indicators, however, was something even more unique, the ending of social hierarchy. The caste system, which was at the centre of Kerala’s social arrangements, disintegrated virtually overnight. This was fuelled by the enactment of a land reform programme that ended feudalism. With feudalism went the equivalence between caste dominance and economic power. If evidence ever was needed for the Marxian view that it was the economic base of a society that undergirded its ‘superstructure’ this was it. What is significant is that the transition had been smooth, without recrimination for loss or retribution for injustice. Social distance in terms of caste distinctions just died.
  • Given the experience of the ending of a feudalism that had persisted for centuries in Kerala, the reception to the Supreme Court’s verdict on the practice of excluding women of menstruating age from the shrine at Sabarimala is disappointing. It is not as if the ruling has been received with sullen acceptance alone. It has been followed by vigilantes actually preventing the very few women who have attempted to enter the shrine since from doing so. Reports of heckling and intimidation that have led to disheartened women returning without darshan is likely to have left many a Malayali patriot ashamed.
  • To understand the reaction to one of the last bastions of male privilege being thrown open to women, we may turn to the work of the philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault had observed that while Marxism, a powerful tool for social analysis, emphasises the relations of production, it ignores the relations of power. Power for Foucault is ubiquitous and ramifies into every dimension of human association. Patriarchy or the idea of rule by men would be one of the sources of power. Heteronormativity and the claim of the racial superiority of certain ethnic groups have also served as sources of power. Power for Foucault can draw its force from sources that are entirely unrelated to economic class. Thus in Kerala, for instance, patriarchy is entrenched across all classes and social groups. It did not vanish with the land reforms, even if its architects had wanted it to happen. From the recent events at Sabarimala we can see that some sections do not want it to lose its stranglehold even today.
  • The opposition to women’s entry at Sabarimala is at times met with an appeal to history, that the temples of Kerala have witnessed far greater transformation in the past, having been thrown open to all sections of Hindus over 75 years ago. While this history is correctly recounted, the issue of women’s entry into temples is not a matter of accepting the inevitability of change, it is a matter of recognising what living in a democracy implies for its members. Even as democracy guarantees rights to the individual, it requires him to acknowledge the rights of others. It is easily overlooked that it is democracy that grants the freedom to practise a religion. The Church was discouraged in the former Soviet Union, China frowns upon the faith of the Uighurs, and the Saudi Arabian state is not exactly tolerant of religious plurality.
  • Linked to representation
  • However, while democracy assures freedom to practise religion, citizens are expected to practise it in a way that is consistent with democracy. So the traditionalists on the Sabarimala issue must recognise that by excluding women, they are not keeping their side of the social contract as it were. In a democracy, the social contract is not between the state and the people, it is one entered into by citizens among themselves. As B.R. Ambedkar is believed to have advised Jawaharlal Nehru, you cannot have a republic within a republic. In the Indian context, the implication of this principle is that religion must be practised in a way consistent with constitutional values; at a minimum the practices cannot be discriminatory. Legal provisions against domestic violence and the ill-treatment of children point to the reach of democracy even into our homes. Religion cannot claim special dispensation. It need hardly be emphasised that the principle that religion be practised in accordance with the norms of democracy extends to all religions. Indian secularism would be tested on this idea.
  • In a way, the opposition to the entry of women to Sabarimala is reflective of a wider inequality between men and women that may be observed in Malayali society. Two indicators point to this, despite the very high literacy levels registered by women and a significant presence of women with higher education. First, female labour force participation is low in Kerala in comparison with other States. Surely the equality of women must be visible in their participation in the workforce. In Kerala, women were once a major presence in agriculture but this declined when paddy cultivation atrophied. The low female labour force participation in Kerala affects their ability to influence social norms, especially social attitudes towards female agency.
  • Second, the presence of women in governance roles is very low in Kerala. Three indicators may be noted, namely, the percentage of women legislators, judges in the High Court and leaders of political parties. It may come as a surprise to note that for the former two indicators the number is lower for the State than it is for Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. This despite the fact that Malayali women participate in elections at least to the same extent as men. Political parties of Kerala have made little effort to induct women into leadership positions. How much of this is due to male chauvinism and how much to inadequate women’s agency is a question to be debated. However, a recent incident does help us see through the thicket. The union of Malayalam film actors, a highly feted body, was in the news for trying to protect an actor accused of abetting assault against a co-star despite the fact that he had been jailed. They held out till its leadership was publicly dragged over the coals by four determined women, some of them quite young. Such endings are few and far between but give rise to hope that women will eventually receive their due in Kerala.
  • A longer journey
  • It is hoped that the Sabarimala shrine, a site of popular worship with a long history and of great beauty, will henceforth be open to women of all ages. But for Kerala ending exclusion at this one site can only be the beginning of the much longer journey to gender equality in its society. The present situation bears comparison with what Nirad Chaudhuri had said of the British Empire, that it “extended subjecthood but denied citizenship”. In the case of Kerala’s women, its society may have extended education but withheld empowerment. So long as women are not represented in the upper echelons of decision-making it will be difficult to break this mould.
  • Anchored in human rights

    Instead of surveillance technologies, help TB patients by providing rights-based interventions

  • Decades of global neglect have resulted in tuberculosis (TB) becoming the leading cause of adult deaths in most of the global south — it kills nearly two million people a year. This is shocking given that TB is curable and preventable. But there are signs of change as the spotlight shines on TB; including the United Nations Declaration of September 2018 titled “United to End Tuberculosis: An Urgent Global Response to a Global Epidemic”, where heads of state and government have “reaffirmed their commitment to end the global TB epidemic by 2030”.
  • Intrusive technologies
  • But not all attention is good. An emergent and disturbing arsenal of surveillance technologies has caught the attention of international and domestic policy makers and threatens to detract from an effective response to TB that is anchored in human rights and has a human touch. For example, a plan in India is to implant microchips in people in order to track them and ensure they complete TB treatment. There are also seemingly endless technological tweaks to the Directly Observed Treatment, short course (DOTS) strategy, which requires patients to report every day to a health authority, who watches them swallow their tablets. Now, governments use, or plan to soon use, a strategy of video, tablets, phones and drones to carry the old DOTS strategy into the technology era.
  • An obsession with new gadgets in disease management — in the context of a disease that could be eliminated in a relatively inexpensive way through human-rights based interventions — is strange. This thinking envisions a TB response that is not with and for people who have TB but rather against suspects who must be targeted, tracked, traced and, above all, never trusted.
  • Some interventions
  • December 10 was World Human Rights Day, which is a reminder also that we can only beat TB using an approach anchored in human rights. Such an approach focusses on creating health systems that foster trust, partnership and dignity. This approach regards people with TB not as subjects to be controlled but as people to be partnered with. It assumes that people with TB have dignity, intelligence and empathy that motivate them to act in the best interests of themselves and their communities when empowered to do so. We cannot beat TB through a response rooted in control and coercion. Therefore, we suggest three interventions to which the funding for surveillance technology should be redirected.
  • The first is new treatment. In contrast to the dozens of whirring and chirping surveillance gizmos are bedaquiline and delamanid, the only new TB drugs to have come to the market in 50 years. These drugs are far more effective against drug-resistant TB than prevailing treatments made up of toxic drugs and painful injections that only work about half the time and often cause disability and psychosis.
  • New guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend the use of bedaquiline and delamanid against drug-resistant TB. But to date, only about 30,000 people have received the new drugs; compare this to the over 500,000 people who get sick with drug-resistant TB every year.
  • In other words, we mount an arsenal of cutting-edge technology to corral people into taking torturous, ineffective drugs even while we fail to use available drugs that work far better. If adherence is the goal, providing drugs that work would be a good place to start.
  • International institutions, donors and countries need to focus and collaborate on the urgent production and distribution of affordable generics of bedaquiline and delamanid. Meanwhile, we must escalate from all levels pressure on companies such as Johnson and Johnson and Otsuka to drop their prices to a dollar a day for each medication so that their exorbitant prices no longer exclude the vast majority of people from accessing the drugs.
  • The second is the human touch. Employ and deploy community health-care workers. Many domestic TB policies envision community health-care workers as the backbone of the response, yet, in practice, these front-line workers remain shockingly underused. In sufficient numbers equipped with proper training and dignified conditions of employment they would lead the response by bringing care to those furthest from the reach of traditional health-care systems. Such programmes would also have the incidental, yet hugely significant, benefit of employing millions of people. WHO should focus on recommendations around this cadre of workers and donors should focus funding to programmes that make the most of them.
  • The last is accountability. The TB response can only be as good as the health-care systems through which it is implemented, and health-care systems are only as good as the structures that hold them to account. Community-based structures such as “clinic committees” ensure accountability while also fostering partnership and trust between communities and their health-care systems. Grassroots civil society and community-based organisations also ensure accountability. Such organisations are indispensable and would thrive on comparatively small amounts of funding. Accountability is a necessary condition for success. We must recognise that it is owed to communities, not donors or international institutions, and fund their efforts to ensure it.
  • People with TB do not need to be watched, they need to be heard. People with TB are saying they want what anyone wants — including health and dignity. The shiny allure of surveillance technology threatens to distract us from the real work of the TB response; work that involves partnering with communities to employ human-rights based strategies to beat TB.
  • Shock resignation

    Urjit Patel stepping down as RBI Governor is a major embarrassment for the government

  • The Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel has cited personal reasons for resigning with immediate effect, but anyone who has followed the events of the last couple of months will know it was anything but that. It was a period during which the Centre and the RBI were engaged in an unseemly tussle over a clutch of issues that had a bearing on the RBI’s autonomy, something that Mr. Patel had sought to preserve. As his predecessor Raghuram Rajan pointed out, when a public servant resigns, it is a sign of protest. Mr. Patel’s decision clearly caught everyone by surprise as it came following perceptions of a thaw in relations between the Centre and the RBI, after an agreement was hammered out at a board meeting last month on some of the contentious issues, including a controversial proposal to use the central bank’s reserves for fiscal purposes. But clearly, the larger issue that divided the Centre and the RBI — which related to autonomy and the independent functioning of the Governor — was never fully resolved. Mr. Patel’s resignation is a serious embarrassment to the NDA government, which has scrambled to make statements expressing surprise at his action and praising him for his work. As attempts to signal that it had nothing to do with Mr. Patel stepping down and to reinforce that he did indeed quit for personal reasons, these remarks were largely unconvincing.
  • Mr. Patel’s resignation is bound to raise questions about the Centre’s ability to work with independent-minded economists, coming as it does following the departures of former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who was at odds with the Centre on many issues, and the sudden resignations of Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian. It is true that Mr. Patel’s reclusive and non-communicative style may not have endeared him to some bankers, but his eminence as an economist and his understanding of macro-economic issues is undisputed. Governments have sparred with the RBI before on the issue of autonomy, but the NDA government went one step further by starting consultations under Section 7 of the RBI Act, which gives the Centre the power to direct the RBI to act in specific ways. The immediate priority now is for the Centre to fill the breach without wasting time. Global investors and the markets are already on edge, and they will be keenly watching, along with the ratings agencies, how the Centre handles this self-created crisis. The incoming Governor is bound to be judged, among other things, by perceptions about his independence. The RBI cannot be treated as if it is just another government department. And the Centre will now need to demonstrate that a post-Patel central bank will continue to enjoy operational autonomy. Anything less will not go down well with both investors and the markets.
  • Don’t believe the anti-GMO campaign

    GM crops reduce pesticide use, increase yields and profits, and pose no health hazards

  • A review article, “Modern technologies for sustainable food and nutrition security”, which appeared in the November 25 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Current Science, is deeply worrying. The article was authored by geneticist P.C. Kesavan and leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan and describes Bt cotton as a “failure”. As the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, K. VijayRaghavan, rightly said, this paper is “deeply flawed”. It has the potential to mislead the public and the political system.
  • Rely on scientific evidence
  • While the general public can be easily swayed by unauthenticated reports, the authors, as scientists, should have relied on hardcore scientific evidence before making such adverse comments. The statement that “only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology [GM]” is not in consonance with their other statements such as the one in the concluding paragraph: “Genetic engineering technology has opened up new avenues of molecular breeding. However, their potential undesirable impacts will have to be kept in view. What is important is not to condemn or praise any technology, but choose the one which can take us to the desired goal sustainably, safely and economically.” Professor Swaminathan also said in a response to the criticism of the article: “Genetic modification is the technology of choice for solving abiotic problems like drought flood, salinity, etc. It may not be equally effective in the case of biotic stresses since new strains of pests and diseases arise all the time. This is why MSSRF [M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation] chose mangrove for providing genes for tolerance to salinity.”
  • Abiotic stress in crops is a major hazard and does not fall under the less than 1% category mentioned in the review article. Major science academies of the world such as the U.S.’s National Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy have supported GM technology. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, after a massive consultation process, published a 420-page report in 2016 with the observation that “Bt in maize and cotton from 1996 to 2015 contributed to a reduction in the gap between actual yield and potential yield under circumstances in which targeted pests caused substantial damage to non-GE varieties and synthetic chemicals could not provide practical control”.
  • In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates signed a letter challenging Greenpeace to drop its anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) technology stance. They stated that the anti-GMO campaign is scientifically baseless and potentially harmful to poor people in the developing world. Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68% (“A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops”, published in PLOS One by Wilhelm Klümper and Matin Qaim in 2014). Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards. Those in the Americas and elsewhere consuming Bt corn or soybean for over 15 years have not reported any health issues. It is preposterous to think that governments would allow their people and animals to be fed “poisonous” food. Even reports based on faulty studies in experimental animals that stated that GMOs cause cancer were withdrawn. Major food safety authorities of the world have rejected these findings.
  • Not a failure in India
  • Bt cotton is not a failure in India. The yields hovering around 300 kg/ha at the time of introduction of Bt cotton (2002) have increased to an average of over 500 kg/ha, converting India from a cotton-importing country to the largest exporter of raw cotton. There was a small dip for a couple of years and the yield has now increased to over 550 kg/ha. The question to be asked is, what would have the yield been if Bt cotton had not been introduced in 2002?
  • It is unfortunate that farmer distress is being wrongly attributed to Bt cotton failure. Farmers continue to grow Bt cotton. The development of resistance can be tackled through practices like Integrated Pest Management and by stacking Bt genes to fight secondary pests. The priority is to accelerate development of Bt cotton varieties that can be packed densely in fields and increase the yields to over 800 kg/ha, as is the case with other countries.
  • GM mustard (DMH-11) is a technology to create mustard hybrids. Being a self-pollinator, mustard is difficult to hybridise through conventional methods. Genetic modification allows different parents to be combined easily, helping yields go up substantially. The herbicide glyphosate is only used for selection of hybrids and is not meant for farmer fields. In any case, reports on the probable carcinogenic potential of the herbicide have not been accepted by major science academies. Yield data can only be assessed in farmers’ fields. For this, trials are necessary. The question then is: why are the trials being scuttled? The moratorium on Bt brinjal is the most unfortunate step taken by the government in 2010 and has crippled the entire field of research and development with transgenic crops. Bangladesh has used India’s data to successfully cultivate Bt brinjal, despite all the negative propaganda. Reports indicate that as many as 6,000 Bangladeshi farmers cultivated Bt brinjal in 2017. How long will it take for Bt brinjal to enter India from Bangladesh?
  • India has one of the strongest regulatory protocols for field trials of GM crops. Many scientists have been part of the monitoring processes, and it is an insult to the integrity of our scientists to indict the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee as lacking in expertise and having vested interests. The paper by Dr. Kesavan and Dr. Swaminathan seems to have got most things wrong for whatever reason. GM technology is not a magic bullet. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is definitely scope for improvement in terms of technology and regulatory protocols. But it is time to deregulate the Bt gene and lift the embargo on Bt brinjal. A negative review from opinion-makers can only mislead the country. In the end, it is India that will be the loser.
  • The Congress’s experiments

    Its electoral tactics have logic but its ideological strategy does not

  • On December 11 last year, Rahul Gandhi was elected as president of the Congress party. Four and a half years after the party’s debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Assembly election results of five States that will be known today will reveal whether the Congress is still in the game and whether Mr. Gandhi’s time at the helm has made a difference to the fortunes of the party.
  • These results are significant for many reasons. One, the Congress has a stake in all five States: it is the principal Opposition party in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana, and is in power in Mizoram. Two, three of these States are in the Hindi heartland and are part of the ruling BJP’s stronghold: in 2014, 62 of the 282 seats it won were from these States. Three, in the last three Assembly polls in 2003, 2008 and 2013, the party that won these three States went on to get the lion’s share of Lok Sabha seats in those States, too. And four, these results will not only reflect the popular mood in the Hindi heartland, but also in one State each in the Northeast and in south India.
  • Strategy in five States
  • Given the importance of these elections, then, it is surprising that the Congress has not played it safe — it has experimented both with electoral tactics and ideological strategy. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, it chose to go it alone. It did not ally with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh or the Gondwana Ganatantra Party to keep its cadres intact, as part of a long-term strategy to rebuild its own organisation and regain lost ground. This is a gamble, because if this experiment does not succeed in at least two of these three States, the Congress will have to concede much more in prospective seat-sharing arrangements for the general elections — and not just in these three States, but also in Uttar Pradesh where it is a marginal party and where the SP, the BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have already decided to contest together. These results will also influence the anti-BJP alliance in Bihar, but to a lesser extent, partly because the Rashtriya Janata Dal is more warmly disposed towards the Congress than the BSP and the SP.
  • In Telangana, the Congress has forged a grand alliance with its old rival in the region, the Telugu Desam Party, as well as the Communist Party of India and the Telangana Jana Samithi. If this combination can decrease the gap in vote share with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi substantially, if not win the election, it would strengthen the idea of a countrywide mahagathbandhan for 2019, with State-specific alliances and a national agenda for governance. A wipeout would force the party to rethink its strategy.
  • It is odd, however, that the Congress has paid little attention to Mizoram, which is the only State where it is in power in the Northeast. Of course, since north-eastern States tend to go with the party ruling at the Centre, the Congress, apart from warning people that voting for its principal ally, the Mizo National Front, would only help provide a back-door entry for the BJP, did little else. If the Congress succeeds in retaining the State, it will send out a message that voters in the State don’t believe that the BJP will win a second parliamentary term.
  • Promoting soft Hindutva
  • That the Congress is testing its own strength in the Hindi heartland before the Lok Sabha elections has a certain logic to it. But its conscious decision to consistently play the soft saffron card does not. Party insiders say this is being done to “neutralise” its “pro-minority” image that the BJP has exploited to its advantage for years. However, that sits awkwardly with its stated commitment to the ideals of the freedom struggle and the pluralism promoted by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mr. Gandhi’s rant against the RSS is diminished somewhat with his frequent temple visits and the reported declaration of his gotra: he would have been better off presenting himself as an Indian representing the syncretic culture of the country. Even the party’s election manifesto includes a promise to promote cow urine. What does all this tell the Dalits at a time of upper-caste assertion? What signal does it give Muslims who have been facing a heightened threat to their lives and livelihoods over the last four and a half years?
  • Mr. Gandhi may have united the Congress and pumped energy into it. He has made the party younger too, by promoting the likes of Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia. But regardless of which party emerges the victor in these elections, by resurrecting Rajiv Gandhi’s brand of competitive communalism, Mr. Gandhi has also helped nudge the political discourse a little more rightwards, from pluralism to Hindu fundamentalism. That will be an ideological victory for the BJP.
  • When the phone buzzes at odd hours, you know it’s Trump

    On the tweeting President who makes the very existence of journalists irrelevant

  • I don’t tweet much. And not using Twitter today is probably equivalent to a reporter not learning shorthand a few decades ago. You can get by, but only barely. If smart mining of the platform can yield useful inputs for your reporting in general, reporting on U.S. President Donald Trump is impossible without tracking his Twitter handle continuously. I learnt this as this newspaper’s former U.S. correspondent.
  • That I was an early riser helped in this case, as Mr. Trump’s Twitter life starts pretty early in the day. I noticed that on most days his first post was some time between 6.30 and 7.00 a.m. in the initial days of his presidency. Soon I realised that he could tweet any time, and to deal with this, set up an instant alert on any posts from @realDonaldTrump. From the sacking of his Secretary of State to what he thinks of transgender soldiers, the world — and reporters — get to know the U.S President’s thoughts through Twitter regularly. Every time my phone buzzed, I knew that the President had something to say.
  • But all this is not to make the life of journalists easy, but their very existence irrelevant. “I’m proud to announce to the media, to the American people and to the Indian people that Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media,” Mr. Trump said in his remarks in June 2017, at the White House, after his first bilateral meeting with Mr. Modi. “Giving the citizens of our countries the opportunity to hear directly from their elected officials and for us to hear directly from them. I guess it’s worked very well in both cases,” he said.
  • Among things that we heard this week was his commentary on his former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson: “He was dumb as a rock… He was lazy as hell.” His take on the protests in Paris? “Protests and riots all over France…Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France.” American elites wake up to read such presidential transgressions everyday, and Mr. Trump gets his dose of pleasure.
  • The policy implications of Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts are a mixed bag. Quite confident on January 1 morning this year that the U.S capital would be sleeping, I had not bothered about @realDonaldTrump. But if you can trust the President with one thing, it is to be unconventional. That early morning post was a rant against Pakistan. And when he tweets nothings, those become bigger stories. Remember “covfefe”? That word came in a tweet after midnight in May 2017. "Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’??? Enjoy!” he said six hours later.
  • While Twitter has remained his principal tool of communication, a few times in the last 23 months Mr. Trump has also surprised scribes in the White House briefing room by suddenly appearing through the blue door behind the spokesperson’s podium, mostly to give some teasers on something that would happen later. Mr. Trump never runs away from the media. He is always willing to take an extra question, not necessarily to respond, but for a combative take down. But he wants Twitter to be a one-way street. Early this year, seven Twitter users blocked by him challenged him in court. The judge decided that the handle is a space operated by the government and ordered the President to unblock those handles. As for White House reporters, if you hear the buzz of your phone in the morning, you know who it is.
  • Disadvantage Congress

    It is likely that any political capital accruing from Sabarimala will go to the BJP

  • The Congress’s political strategy in Kerala regarding Sabarimala has been to back those who oppose the court’s order. In its haste to showcase itself, along with the BJP, as the protector of Hindu customs and traditions, it has fallen between two stools.
  • Firstly, the party was slow to smell political capital in the Supreme Court verdict that permitted women of all ages to offer worship at the temple. The All India Congress Committee hailed the judgment as “historic”. State-level leaders welcomed it, but when the BJP, long in search of a cause that could bring Kerala Hindus to its side, jumped in, the Congress felt threatened. And when the Left Democratic Front government decided to carry out its constitutional duty of implementing the verdict, the Congress quickly reversed gear. It announced that it supported the agitating “devotees” who, it turned out, were mostly Sangh Parivar cadres. It wanted the Pinarayi Vijayan government to move the Supreme Court with a review petition and urged the Centre to bring in a law upturning the verdict. It also launched a State-wide campaign to protect Sabarimala’s “ancient customs”.
  • By that time, the BJP had moved far ahead with its own Sabarimala campaign that could inspire an uneasy “Hinduism in peril” sense among some voters. State BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai told a Yuva Morcha meeting that the Sabarimala issue was a “golden opportunity” for the BJP to grow and, with its huge grassroots-level network, the Sangh Parivar could easily mobilise men, women and material for the campaign. The Parivar’s propaganda machinery effectively changed the Sabarimala narrative from a State government implementing a Supreme Court verdict to a Communist-led government using its police force to wipe out Hindu customs and eclipse the glory of a great temple.
  • The Congress’s campaign ended up lending credence to the Sangh Parivar narrative. In the public’s mind, both the BJP’s and Congress’s Sabarimala narratives merged. The two campaigns were similar — if anything, the BJP’s was considerably more aggressive and sometimes violent. It is also noteworthy that the Congress’s Kerala campaign played out against the backdrop of the Assembly election campaigns in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where some say the Congress has been unabashedly pandering to majority sentiments. In that regard the Sabarimala misadventure may have dented the party’s secular, liberal image.
  • Muslims and Christians make up 45% of Kerala’s population. It is this demographic that has kept the Modi wave out of Kerala. It is also the huge presence of the minorities in the Congress ranks that has kept the party alive and well in Kerala when it was beaten in other States. Now, however, Muslims and Christians eye the party with suspicion. Thus, it is likely that any political capital accruing from Sabarimala will go to the BJP; and post-Sabarimala, the minorities might substantially disinvest politically from the Congress.