Thiruvananthapuram: Faith and belief is being widely discussed in Kerala during this elections, this was never the case in the state. The Supreme court verdict allowing women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple and the agitations that followed has been raised by the parties, especially the BJP. Pathanamthitta district, which hosts Sabarimala, has been the epicenter of all the agitations.
BJP hopes to make an electoral impact in Pathanamthitta and fielded K Surendran, who was in the forefront of Sabarimala agitation.
The BJP candidate said, “In Pathanamthitta, the major issue is Sabarimala and how the state government handled it. People know what has happened and remember the atrocities against devotees. We are discussing the development issue also in Pathanamthitta. But Sabarimala cannot be ignored because people are frustrated with the government’s Sabarimala stand.”
The contest in Pathanamthitta is tough as Congress has fielded their two-time sitting MP Anto Antony and he asks people to vote in the name of development he has done in the constituency.
Anto Antony claims that he has already brought Rs 1,670 crore development projects into the constituency and this includes Gramin roads, passport seva kendra and a new indoor stadium, of which work is yet to begin, and four new national highways which are sanctioned.
On Sabarimala, Anto Antony said,” Congress is the only party that stood with believers in Sabarimala issue. BJP is doing a false campaign. Consistently only one party stood for the believers and that is Congress and UDF. When Oommen Chandy was CM, he gave a firm affidavit in Supreme Court stating that the hundreds of years of rituals and beliefs should be continued. BJP is always playing politics in connection with religion and they cash on the situation arising all over the country.”
The CPM has fielded sitting MLA Veena George and her campaign revolves around the development that she can bring into the constituency. She alleges no development took place in the past 10 years and basic facilities like drinking water are also an issue in many areas.
“The farmers, especially the rubber farmers, are suffering and their demand is to convert rubber into an agricultural product,” Veena George said.
On the Sabarimala issue, the LDF stand is that they were implementing a court order and the BJP and Congress are playing politics over this. Veena George said that Sabarimala is not an issue. “We can ask the people and they say that they need water. People need development and water. The issue the people talk is development, she said, adding that the people will give an answer to all those propagate in this election.
For majority of the people in Pathanamthitta, Sabarimala is an emotional issue and they feel that it will have an impact on the elections.
Chandrabhanu, an auto driver from Pathanamthitta said, “Lord Ayyappa temple is a major issue here. Court order is there, but government could have thought about it, discussed and implemented it. That was not done. It was CM’s individual decision.”
Sujini, a resident of Pathanamthitta, said, “We are not accepting women entry. We don’t want women of all age groups to enter Sabarimala. This was not there all these years. We feel that Ayyappa’s shakthi should not be lost because of this. This is our belief.”
There are some who are also concerned about the violence that erupted as part of the agitation. For some others basic facilities like drinking water, post flood rehabilitation are major concerns.
A resident of Pathanamthitta said, “It was an SC order that Pinarayi Vijayan had tried to implement. Because of election BJP created this issue. Not just people from here but even from outside had come and created trouble. The people who first supported it are now opposing it for exploiting our beliefs.”
Pathanamthitta was one of the worst affected during floods and people are still struggling to get back to normal life. Darwin Jose is running an electrical shop for the past eight years in Ranni town. Water flooded his entire shop and destroyed the complete stock, causing a loss of about Rs 40 lakh. So far he has not received any help. He just reopened about 20 percent of his shop with help from friends and family.
Darwin Jose said, “I have an insurance of about Rs 26 lakh. The insurance company so far has not given a single rupee. Banks have started calling us. There is a moratorium on our loans for one year but after that we will have to pay the interest and the loan. When we think about that, we are really living in fear. When we think about future, children’s education and family, we are really scared. If we don’t get any help from government, we don’t know how we will live and can never overcome this crisis.”
This is not the case of Jose alone many traders in the flood ravaged district is facing this problem. They are all hoping on the help promised by the government of a loan of about 10 lakhs from banks to restart their business.
Aby Stephen had about seven businesses in Ranni town including a textiles, furniture shop and a bakery. Post floods all his shops were damaged and were even struggling to make both ends meet. Now friends and family have pooled in and helped to restart his bakery business. He suffered a loss of about 3 crore and has bank loan of about Rs 1.5 crore. One of his children is suffering from a rare medical condition and he is now seeking help from the government to at least take care of his child’s medical expense.
Aby Stephen said, “I went to the Kerala secretariat 27 times, met the CM and all department ministers and opposition leader. I also met the PM but so far no help has been received from any quarters. We have lost all hope. We thought the government will help us some way, that they will not close their eyes on us. But now we have no hopes. We are really scared of what will happen to us. banks have started calling us . we realised that everyone’s words were just mere promises.”
Though these are all issues that are concerning the state throughout the campaign, Sabarimala is discussed widely especially by the BJP to keep the heat on. The LDF and UDF are trying to bring the focus back on development or the lack of it