‘People expect a change for the good. There should be a government that stood for values and faith,’ says Nair Service Society general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair.

Nair Service Society (NSS) general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair on Tuesday said Sabarimala Ayyappa devotees were “still bitter” about the events that hurt their faith.

Speaking to reporters after voting in Kottayam, Mr. Nair said the people expected a change for the good. There should be a government that stood for values and faith.

Law Minister A. K. Balan said the 2021 Assembly election was not a contest between believers and non-believers. Such a conclusion was reductive. There were more significant issues at stake. “I have not heard the NSS general secretary. It is unlikely he will make such a statement,” he said.

Sabarimala appeared to dominate the political narrative even on poll day. The emotive issue was the central plank of the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigns.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said figuratively in Kannur that deities of the land, including Lord Ayyappa, would bless the Left Democratic Front (LDF) for ministering the people in the time of catastrophe.

His words drew reactions from across the political spectrum and pushed the subject to the fore as voting picked up pace across the State.

Soon, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala said in Alappuzha that the Chief Minister had attempted belatedly to “atone for his trespasses against the Ayyappa faith”.

Veteran Congress leader A. K. Antony said Mr. Vijayan should apologise to believers for “desecrating” the Sabarimala temple by “ham-fistedly” enacting the 2018 Supreme Court verdict permitting women, irrespective of their age, to worship at Sabarimala.

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said Mr. Vijayan’s invoking of Ayyappa faith was unconvincing. Sabarimala devotees would reject his election day overture.

Mr. Chandy said the LDF government had paved the way for the Supreme Court verdict by filing an affidavit backing women’s entry. It had trashed the previous United Democratic Front (UDF) government’s affidavit seeking the preservation of Sabarimala tradition and faith.

If Mr. Vijayan had honestly empathised with the sentiment of Ayyappa devotees, he should have withdrawn the current testimony and submitted the UDF’s sworn statement in court, Mr. Chandy said.

CPI State secretary Kanam Rajendran said the NSS general secretary might have crossed a line if confirmed that he had made a political statement on polling day.

“No other social organisation leader had attempted to broadcast their political preference on voting day. BJP and Congress had harped on about Sabarimala because they had nothing else to say,” he said.

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