The deep churn the Sabarimala protests have caused in Kerala's politics and social life is unprecedented. Perhaps no other issue has materially altered the thought landscape in the last half century the way the temple crisis did.
There are many straws in the wind as to how exactly Sabarimala issue would redraw the ideological moorings of Kerala. One such is the enormous spurt in the viewership of the one and only right leaning news channel in Malayalam.
The Janam TV, which is among nearly a dozen Malayalam language news channels, saw a meteoric rise in viewership ever since the Sabarimala verdict was pronounced by the Supreme Court on September 28.
In the six weeks since then, the news channel came from nowhere in terms of ratings and viewership to occupy the second spot. In the process, the channel has overtaken many seasoned players like Manorama News, Mathrubhumi and People, while it is closing in on Asianet, the pioneer and leader in Kerala's television news.
According to the data pertaining to the week 45, Janam is at a close second after Asianet in terms of viewers and impressions. As per ratings score issued by the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC), Janam TV has 132 points, just 17 less than the leading channel. It is way ached of bigwigs Manorama News and Mathrubhumi News, which have 83 and 79 points, respectively.
In terms of impressions, Janam is again at the second spot with 41,317 points, behind Asianet, which has 46,632 points. Manorama is at the third spot with 25,771 points and Mathrubhumi is at the fourth position with 24,857 points.
In comparison, the ruling CPI-M mouthpiece Kairali People channel is way behind in terms of ratings and impressions.
Data shows that the growth in impressions recorded by Janam TV between Week 39 and Week 45 is astronomical. As of Week 39, the impressions were a lowly 2,950. The channel got a sudden spurt in the week of 41 when the Sabarimala controversy flared up after the Kerala government stood adamant in its position that young women will be allowed at the Sannidhanam of the Lord Ayyappa temple in the jungles.
Even as the Sabarimala hills witnessed a tense standoff between the devotees and the police force, Janam TV saw an increasing gravitation of Kerala's news viewers to it.
It's early to say if the exponential rise in viewership recorded in the only right leaning news channel in Kerala is a pointer to the political polarisation in the state. The changes in preference for the news source may not even be an equal representation of a potential electoral choice, too.
More Keralites are unapologetic about right sympathies
However, the trend does indicate that Kerala's political society is not anymore an impregnable monolith that the right wing could never hope to scale. The left parties and the left-of-centre alliance led by the Congress have alternated in power in Kerala for decades and the BJP has not been able to make any significant electoral gains.
Making electoral projections based on TV news preferences could be a stretch. It could be that Keralites who opposed the court verdict wanted to take refuge in a filter bubble -- you watch those programmes that feed your bias. If you single-mindedly opposed the supreme court verdict, you didn't want to watch a TV discussion that presents both the sides of the argument. It could be that Keralites were glued to the Janam TV to watch the prayer precessions, rallies and other events the Sangh Parivar organised in protest against the government move to help activists and non-believers enter the temple.
Whatever the case, the fact remains that the Sabarimala issue has given the voice of the right wing more acceptance. In plain terms more Keralites are unapologetic about taking a side that the BJP has already taken.