As the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala gears up for yet another annual pilgrim season next month, major political parties in Kerala are keeping their fingers crossed to know whether the women's entry issue will have any impact on the October 21 bypolls to five assembly constituencies.
The bypolls to be held in Vattiyoorkkavu, Konni, Ernakulam, Aroor and Manjeswaram are seen as a litmus test for the CPI(M)-led ruling LDF and the opposition Congress headed UDF and BJP-NDA ahead of the 2021 assembly elections.
LDF is going all out to ensure that the Sabarimala issue is not discussed in the ongoing campaigns as they had drawn flak from several quarters over the women's entry issue for its alleged hastiness in implementing the Supreme Court order, permitting women of all age groups into the hill shrine.
In the recent Lok Sabha polls, post-Sabarimala agitation, the Left front had suffered a massive drubbing, losing 19 out of the total of 20 seats.
The defeat of the Left and the sweep of the opposition Congress-UDF was generally seen as the impact of the Sabarimala issue.
During the ongoing campaign, the ruling front is trying its best to woo voters by focussing on development issues and listing out the achievements of the Pinarayi Vijayan led government.
Unlike the Lok Sabha polls, even senior Left leaders, including Vijayan, are steering clear of any controversial statements or provocative remarks on Sabarimala in campaigns.
Senior CPI(M) leader and Industries Minister E P Jayarajan had even said the Sabarimala issue would be in LDF's favour in the bypolls and Lord Ayyappa was helping them.
The recent victory of LDF candidate Mani C Kappan in Pala assembly segment, a traditional UDF bastion, had reinfused confidence among the Left cadres and leadership.
At the same time,opposition UDF and BJP-NDA are going all out to revive memories of the violent street battles against the entry of menstruating women during the last pilgrim season and that of two young women with the support of police earlier this year.
They try to raise the issue in all five constituencies, especially in Konni in Pathanamthitta district where the Sabarimala temple is located and at Manjeswaram, where a three-cornered fight is expected between LDF, UDF and NDA.
UDF is confident that Hindu voters, especially devotees and women, who were "hurt" due to the adamant stand taken by the LDF government in the Sabarimala issue, would favour them.
The BJP-NDA, however, is facing flak for not fulfilling its promise of bringing out a legislation by the Centre for protecting the customs and traditions of Sabrimala.
The Nair Service Society (NSS), an influential outfit of the forward Nair community, had recently called on its members to maintain the "right distance" in the bypolls, which is seen as a deviation from its long-held stand of maintaining "equi-distance" from all political parties and fronts.
In his Vijayadashami message, its general secretary G Sukumaran Nair had said it had become necessary to adopt a "right distance" in the upcoming bypolls to protect democracy, secularism, social justice, customs and traditions.
He had also criticised the LDF and BJP over the issue, which is being seen by UDF as a favourable move for them.
Kerala had witnessed high drama during the nearly three month long annual pilgrim season last year with around a dozen women in the 10-50 age group being prevented from entering the Sabarimala temple by protesting devotees after the doors were opened for all women following the apex court verdict.
The hill shrine will open for the annual festival this year on November 16.