When Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in August 2016, suggested that the Sabarimala temple where pilgrims are allowed only during Mandala season and special occasions should be kept open throughout the year, Hindu devotees thought that it was only a harmless suggestion. But as the things unfold, it is becoming clear that the whole thing part of a well-orchestrated, deep-rooted conspiracy to destroy the sanctity of Sabarimala to serve the vested interests of evangelicals and business groups.
The state government had revealed its plans to make Sabarimala an international tourist destination and for this, a master plan has already been prepared. The government plans an airport at Erumeli, a key point in the scheme of Sabarimala pilgrimage. The proposed Erumeli airport project near Sabarimala for which the state Cabinet had given its approval is what is driving the CPI(M) and its Chief Minister. What is interesting is that the proposed site of the airport is in Cheruvally Estate owned by an evangelical group. The airport will become financially viable only if Sabarimala becomes a tourist destination. Last Mandala season more than 5 crore devotees visited the temple.
Armed with the Supreme Court verdict, the government thought it would easily implement its agenda. It never expected devotees, especially women, will come out in large numbers to protest against the violation of traditions in Sabarimala. A senior Communist leader told Indus Scrolls that the protest will “die down in four days”. But on the contrary, it intensified women and men turning up in lakhs braving strong police action and assault by CPI(M) goons. The influential Nair Service Society (NSS) took a principled and strong stance against the violation of traditions in Sabarimala. The government tried the carrot-and-stick policy, but the CM could not bring NSS chief Sukumaran Nair around to accept the government’s line. However, the chief minister could arm-twist Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam chief Vellappalli Natesan, thanks to several cases pending against him.
Notwithstanding the protests by devotees, the state government tried to bulldoze its plan to take young women such as Rehana Fathima and atheist Libi to Sabarimala. But it faced stiff protest from the Thantri, priests and Pandalam royal family, who are connected closely with the Ayyappa legend. The Thantri put his foot down and declared that he will shut the temple and leave if the traditions are violated. Ever since Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI(M) having been running a hate campaign against the Thantri and the Pandalam royals. This time too, the Thantri when Maoist women entered Sabarimala, he shut the temple and performed Shuddhi rituals.
Upset with the action, Pinarayi asked the Thantri to quit. The Thantri, who is the last word on rituals and traditions on Sabarimala, reportedly retorted: “I am not a CPI(M) member to resign and quit.” But moves are afoot to change the incumbent Thantri and to appoint a pliable person in his position. But, under the Devasowm laws, the government or the Devaswom Board for that matter has no jurisdiction on the Thantri.
Meanwhile, there is an effort by the Kerala government, CPI(M) and anti-Hindu organisations to woo foreign tourists to visit Sabarimala with a specific purpose to make it a tourist hotspot. Two young Swedish women tourists tried to make it to Sabarimala. It must be noted that every year hundreds of devotees belonging to various nationalities who observe strict penance visit temple and there is no restriction on them. But the latest move by the government spells danger as it is designed to help the vested interests of business and evangelical groups. For instance, Tourism and Devaswom Minister Kadannappally Surendran welcomed foreign tourists to visit the hill shrine, according to a report in the New Indian Express. “There is no bar on domestic or international tourists in Sabarimala, if they follow existing rules and traditions. Those coming with the ‘Irumudikettu’ after mandatory penance can climb the 18 holy steps, while others can have normal darshan,” Surendran told the daily.
The government’s designs to destroy Sabarimala were clear when it filed an affidavit to the Kerala High Court where it said Sabarimala was a ‘secular temple’ and the Waqf Board, Muslim organisations, Vavar Trust, Christian organisations and tribal outfits were stakeholders. This is a deliberate ploy to make the temple a contentious issue.