Puthuppally (Kottayam): When the Supreme Court granted women of all ages entry to the Sabarimala Temple in September 2018, the Congress’ central leadership had issued a statement welcoming the verdict “without considering” the temple’s special circumstances, two-time former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy has said.
The Congress’ statement had and called the judgment “progressive and far-reaching”. However, in an interview to ThePrint at his Puthuppally residence, Chandy said while the Congress party generally stands for gender equality, the Sabarimala issue was markedly different.
“Congress leadership issued some different statement, without considering the special circumstances of this temple,” Chandy said.
“This is a century-old tradition. Moreover, there was no ban on women, but only on a special age group of women. And the women themselves want to keep away from the temple,” he said.
Now, the Congress-led United Democratic Front’s (UDF) election manifesto has promised a law protecting the traditions of the temple, located in the Pathanamthitta district. But Chandy refused to term this as a ‘U-turn’ for his party, though he did acknowledge that the central leadership’s original stand on the matter was “different”.
“There was no U-turn, Congress has always had one stance. The CPI(M) government gave an affidavit supporting women’s entry. But when we came to power, we knew that the affidavit is against the traditions and customs of the temple. So we gave a new affidavit supporting the traditions of the temple. And we took same stand in the government and the opposition,” Chandy said.
He pointed to the fact that in 2016, the Congress-led state government had favoured the restrictions on the entry of women of menstruating age into the temple.
‘No groupism in Congress Kerala, look at Shashi Tharoor’
Oommen Chandy has won the assembly elections from the Puthuppally seat 11 consecutive times since 1970. If he wins this time, he will match the record of the late K.M. Mani, who represented Pala on behalf of the Congress and then his own party Kerala Congress (M) for 12 consecutive terms before his death in 2019.
In the past month, allegations of ‘groupism’ have emerged in the Kerala Congress, with former party leader P.C. Chacko quitting because of rampant groupism, and calling it “the biggest bane of Congress party in Kerala” .
Chacko noted that there were two dominant groups within the Congress party, one led by Chandy and the other by Ramesh Chennithala, the current leader of the opposition in Kerala. He added that to rise up the ladder, one has to be part of one of these groups.
But Chandy denied all these accusations and said: “That is not correct; so many leaders are working here without any group.”
The former CM cited the example of Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram.
“Shashi Tharoor is a very important leader as far as Kerala is concerned. He is a national leader also, but he is not in any group or anything. He’s a very well respected leader and he’s very active,” he said.
Chandy further talked about the exit of the Kerala Congress (M) from the UDF, and said it would not be a setback for the alliance.
The Kerala Congress (M), now led by K.M. Mani’s son Jose K. Mani, quit the UDF last year and joined the ruling Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Chandy said Mani senior had actually been attacked by Marxists and the CPI(M).
“His son has joined hands with the Marxist party, but those who like Mani will not agree to this type of activities of the CPI(M). So I don’t think there will be any major setback for UDF because of this,” he said.
Congress never wanted ‘BJP-mukt bharat’
Chandy also attributed the Congress’ poor performance in the state’s panchayat polls in December to the “election pattern in Kerala”.
“Different elections are different here. For example, Parliament (general) election is very much in favour of the UDF. Last election, we got 19 seats out of 20,” he said.
The veteran leader added that local body elections, conversely, depended primarily on candidates and rebels of the party.
Chandy also called the Congress’ overall decline at the national level a “temporary setback” and said that unlike the BJP, it never hoped to wipe out the opposition when it was in power.
“Congress is the only national party to uphold the golden principles of India… Modi is doing anything to finish the opponents,” he said, adding that even when BJP won only two seats in Parliament, the Congress did not issue a call to “finish BJP”.
“‘BJP-mukt Bharat’ was not the slogan of the Congress. But Modi won one election, he got the majority, and then he raised the slogan ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’,” Chandy said.
He added that the difference between the two parties is that the Congress believes in democracy.
(Edited by Rachel John)