The Pinarayi Vijayan government has a clear upper hand at the half-way mark of the 13th session of the Kerala Assembly. The UDF strategy to use the Assembly advantage to wrest the Sabarimala initiative from the BJP seems to have bumped into a dead-end. The front is up against an uncompromising chief minister who seems least bothered about denying the opposition basic democratic courtesies.
The UDF is now reduced to virtually pleading for a compromise. “Why is the government not even calling us for talks,” Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said. It has been five days since three UDF MLAs – V S Sivakumar (Congress), Parakkal Abdulla (Muslim League) and N Jayaraj (Kerala Congress) – began a 'satyagraha' right inside the assembly complex demanding two things: one, withdraw prohibitory orders in Sabarimala, and two, improve facilities for Sabarimala pilgrims.
UDF courts trouble
The government is in no mood to budge. Pinarayi can afford to without being seen as arrogant.
On December 6, the Kerala High Court said there was nothing wrong with the prohibitory orders in Sabarimala. The court said the supervisory committee appointed by it had reported that the curfew was not causing any problem to devotees. The committee had also reported the increased flow of pilgrims to the shrine.
With prohibitory orders seemingly getting the High Court's backing, it does not look like the opposition has much oxygen left for a sustained fight. Not surprisingly, they are looking for a way out.
Hope and dejection
Hope came in the form of industries minister E P Jayarajan, who was in charge in the assembly on December 6 in the absence of the chief minister. He was sympathetic, without sounding sarcastic. “We too want the three UDF leaders to end their agitation. But the government cannot lift the prohibitory orders in an arbitrary manner. The controls have been imposed on the basis of the assessment of the local administration,” he said in the assembly on Thursday.
He then offered the UDF a glimpse of redemption. “We will see what we can to solve the issue,” Jayarajan said. Soon it was decided that Jayarajan and opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala will hold a discussion in the speaker's chamber the very same day. Such a discussion but never took place. The chief minister shot off a letter to the speaker saying that Jayarajan had not been deputed to hold any talks with the opposition. End of compromise.
Three agitating UDF MLAs looking abandoned inside a forlorn assembly complex can be nourishment for the BJP's fast that is going on just a few yards away in front of the busy Secretariat. The UDF leaders now hope that Pinarayi would step in at least to prevent the BJP from taking advantage of their failure.
Small wins and mighty losses
The UDF had lost the battle in the assembly even earlier. It was effectively prevented from raising all aspects of the Sabarimala issue. The UDF's attempt to move an adjournment motion on the poor pilgrim facilities at Sabarimala was stymied by the speaker. He said he could not allow two adjournment motions on Sabarimala. (The UDF had earlier moved an adjournment motion on the curfew imposed at Sabarimala.) The UDF disrupted proceedings, and the opposition leader declared that the UDF would fight till the speaker accepted their demand. The speaker but stuck to his stand, and the opposition did not press further.
Instead, the UDF changed tack and adopted a constructive approach. They agreed to cooperate with the speaker but announced that three of its MLAs would go on an indefinite Satyagraha to get the government to agree to its demands. In between, it moved three adjournment motions.
The one on post-flood relief management did put the government on the mat. The opposition managed to demonstrate that the government had not, even three months after the floods, distributed relief money to the victims. Inexplicably, the UDF did not scale up the advantage outside the assembly, giving the government a breather.
The second motion on higher education minister K T Jaleel's nepotism saw the chief minister stealing the show. Pinarayi held up a paper that he claimed had a list of close family members of UDF leaders who were appointed to top positions during the UDF tenure. He even mentioned two names, and asked whether he should reel out more. The UDF side looked rattled. Fact was, almost all the names on the chief minister's list were posted in the personal staff of former ministers, not to any top post in a PSU.
UDF suffers issue drought
Now, it looks like the UDF had run out of issues to take on the government as well. The third adjournment motion it moved was against the alleged media curbs the LDF government had recently introduced. But by the time the UDF brought the issue to the assembly the chief minister had already promised that necessary amendments would be made to the circular.
It looks like the UDF has no way out of this political maze.