The Sabarimala issue seems set to take centre stage as a high voltage talking point in the electoral fight for the Kazhakuttam Assembly constituency.
The face-off between Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran of the CPI(M) and Sobha Surendran of the BJP in the high profile constituency could amplify the simmering dispute on the right of women of childbearing age to worship at the Ayyappa temple.
It could also push the emotive issue to the fore of the electoral debate.
After dragging its feet on Ms. Surendran candidature, the BJP fielded her on Wednesday against Mr. Surendran as its standard-bearer for the Sabarimala cause.
The government’s attempt to enact the 2018 Supreme Court decision allowing women, irrespective of their age, to worship at Sabarimala had caused widespread social upheaval and violent protests in Kerala.
Ms. Surendran said Sabarimala was the central plank of her campaign. Ayyappa devotees would punish Mr. Surendran for trampling on their faith, she said.
Kazhakuttam has nearly two lakh voters. Backward class Hindus, Latin Catholics and Muslims are the dominant communities. The BJP had increased its vote share in Kazhakuttam in 2016 by 25%. Ms. Surendran hoped to build on it.
Mr. Surendran was yet to make a clear break with LDF’s policy on Sabarimala women’s entry. He had said last week that the events in 2018 had saddened everybody. The NSS reacted that Mr. Surendran’s passing expression of regret would not pull the curtains down on the Sabarimala issue.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said he was unaware of the context of Mr. Surendran’s statement. The LDF government had upheld the Supreme Court verdict. Moreover, the CPI(M) batted for gender equality.
The Congress had also stated that Sabarimala was an election issue. However, electioneering on the controversial subject seemed sedate compared to the BJP’s increasingly strident campaign.
Mr. Surendran and Ms. Surendran were as different a pair of candidates as the CPI(M) and the BJP could field.
Mr. Surendran exuded the image of a seasoned conciliator, while Ms. Surendran was perceived more as a political firebrand and a skilled demagogue.
Mr. Surendran has maintained that Sabarimala would not shift the contours of support for the LDF in Kazhakuttam. However, Ms. Surendran would like to believe otherwise.