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Thanks to its Kerala party chief, BJP loses its innocence in Sabarimala issue

The Week 2018-11-07 21:23:03

BJP state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai's gleeful declaration before a group of Yuva Morcha activists in Kozhikode on November 4 has contradicted his oft-repeated assurance that the party had no intention of politicising the issue.

Pillai had earlier made it sound as if the party was just the twelfth man in the Sabarimala struggle, entering the field of play only to provide drinks and refreshment to the real players, the devotees. As it turns out, revealed through Pillai's own words, it was the twelfth man who was controlling the game.

The words Pillai had used—“golden opportunity” and “the agenda”—smacked of devious political calculation.

Some top Sangh Parivar leaders confided that it was as mortifying as getting caught with the pants down. But an influential section within the BJP says there is nothing much to worry as the faithful knew all along that the BJP would use the situation politically. Their contention is that it would be silly to argue that Pillai's statements had exploded near the ear of the devotee like an unexpected cracker burst.

“They would have even been elated that we pounced on the chance offered to us on a platter,” one of them said.

Soap opera vision

But what these leaders have not factored in is the political naivete of a large section of the Hindu middle class in the state, especially those who have rolled over to the BJP side in the wake of the Sabarimala issue. These faithful have what psychologists term a “soap opera” vision of politics. They view politics in the highly simplified terms of good and bad, just the way they consume their television serials. A person is either good or bad. There is nothing in between. The nuanced rational thinking they adopt at home and workplace is largely absent in their understanding of politics. For some reason, they don't use the mind-goggles that could detect political undercurrents.

So, when Pillai passionately kept telling that he was with the faithful, he endeared himself to the God-fearing Hindu middle class. It was not even considered that the BJP state chief and the RSS had nothing against the entry of women into Sabarimala before the Supreme Court verdict came. Nor that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called for a team of learned men to first discuss the entry of women before it was implemented.

This 'soap opera' vision but is a double-edged sword. Now that Pillai himself has suggested that his party was milking Sabarimala sentiments for political gains, the devotee's perception of him might just swing right across to the other end. There is nothing in between. The RSS is worried, though it will have to continue backing Sreedharan Pillai.

The Sangh Parivar, all this while, was careful not to offend this fragile entity called the devotee. It had put in place a strategy that would assure the devotees that they, and not the Sangh Parivar, were holding the reins of the agitation. It is this strategy that Pillai, with his brag, has brought down with a crash.

'Holy' betrayal

Even if it is conceded for argument's sake that Pillai's uncensored speech would not cause any political trouble for the BJP, the party still has to account for the embarrassment of the 'tantri', a position it has almost defied during this struggle. Pillai had claimed that it was he who gave the 'tantri' a pep talk before the priest went ahead and threatened to shut down the temple. The 'tantri' now says that no such thing has happened.

This is not all. To emphasize that he was not holding some secret conspiracy, Pillai had argued that the Yuva Morcha event was an open one. Journalists were present at the event, he said. This begs another question: “Was he purposefully trying to belittle the sanctity of the 'tantri'?”

Pillai has tied himself up in knots.