The Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and “progressive” in outlook, was the only party to embrace the Supreme Court’s verdict. The LDF organised a counterprotest against conservative protesters in 2019, with millions of women and men forming a human wall (Vanitha Mathil) stretching 620 kilometres from the temple.
Kerala is unique among Indian states for its leftist socialist leanings—and it was the world’s first state to democratically elect a communist party in 1957. The strong turnout in support of gender equality and justice in that state came as no surprise.
In contrast, both the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) took the opposing view. With the upper-caste Nair population and competition over Kerala’s Hindu votes in mind, the UDF promised legislation that would reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In the 2019 Indian General Election, the UDF bagged 19 out of 20 seats, while LDF salvaged the last remaining seat. Some believe that the Sabarimala Temple issue contributed to the landslide victory, whereas others argue that sentiment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi motivated Keralans to vote for the Indian National Congress—the principal opposition party to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Though the political debate touched on religious freedom and gender equality, it foregrounded the conflict between tradition and modern values such as gender equality. The BJP framed its opposition to the Supreme Court’s verdict as “a matter of age-old tradition accepted by society.” The BJP of Kerala, which aggressively incited protests, saw the issue as a "golden opportunity” to squeeze into a political arena traditionally dominated by the UDF and LDF.
But why has the BJP been so outspoken to make a political issue of the Sabarimala Temple’s ban?
The preservation of the temple’s rule against women’s entry embodies more than patriarchal values for the BJP. The party’s Hindu nationalist ideology (Hindutva) seeks to preserve tradition against the secularising force of law, and the Sabarimala Temple controversy was a crucial battleground in its grand narrative of a Hindu nation subject to Hindu moral codes.
The BJP’s rhetoric thus appeals more to tradition than to religious arguments themselves, and this shows up in its double standard on gender issues in other religions. When the High Court of Bombay lifted the ban on women’s entry into Haji Ali Dargah—a mosque and tomb dedicated to Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari—BJP’s general secretary Shrikant Sharma welcomed rather than challenged the verdict.