While admitting the petitions the court did not stay the previous decision to allow menstruating women into the temple. Things are not going to be easy for the Left Front government.



New Delhi: An air of uncertainty prevails in Kerala in the aftermath of the “ambiguous” Supreme Court verdict on a host of petitions seeking review of last year’s judgement allowing women in the age group of 10-50 years to offer worship at the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple. The court’s decision to refer its historic 2018 judgement on Sabarimala, clubbed along with other contentious religious issues relating to other faiths, to a larger bench has created confusion as to whether Thursday’s order directs a stay on the entry of women of all ages to enter the Lord Ayyappa shrine. While admitting the petitions the court did not stay the previous decision to allow menstruating women into the temple. The 2018 judgement was delivered by a five-member bench headed by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra. At that time four were in favour of women’s entry with the lone dissenter being Indu Malhotra. This time the judgement comes with a 3:2 majority; the differing two judges, Rohinton Nariman and D.Y. Chandrachud, stick to their 2018 ruling in favour of women’s entry into the temple. The ruling has come two days before the most auspicious Mandala puja season, beginning Sunday, that attracts thousands of devotees to Sabarimala from different parts of the country. In the absence of clarity on the question of entry of women, different political parties are giving their own interpretations as to the court’s decision on Thursday. While the BJP and the Congress and other religious bodies are claiming victory, the Left Front government is not sure as to where it stands. Only the ruling CPM has come out with a statement that it is against the entry of women. Last year, this time, Kerala was on the boil following the Left Front government, in fact Chief Minister Pinarayai Vijayan’s decision to implement the apex court judgement without even seeking out opinion from other political parties and social organisations regarding the issue. The mayhem continued for over hundred days.

This time, however, the government and the CPM seem to be cautious not to repeat last year’s misadventure. The BJP, which spearheaded last year’s “Save Sabarimala” campaign against women’s entry, has warned the government against any move to bring young women to the temple. In the absence of a state president, party spokesperson B. Gopalakrishnan said the state should not try to take women activists to the temple on the ground that the Supreme Court did not stay its 2018 verdict. “If the government tries to take women to the temple, it would be opposed,” he said. Former BJP state president and RSS ideologue Kummanam Rajasekharan said women should be prevented from going to Sabarimala. “The government should in no way facilitate their entry,” he said. Stating that the court verdict has vindicated the party stand, state Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran said, “The party is with the faithful. The government should desist from adopting provocative steps.” Congress, too, had joined other organisations in staging protests against the government action. The erstwhile royal family of Pandalam, which has a stake in the running of the Sabarimala temple and was the first to initiate women to come on to the streets in thousands against last year’s ruling, has said that the Thursday ruling reflects the sentiments of the devotees of Lord Ayyappa. “The court has decided to re-examine its earlier verdict. It indicates that the court could be under the impression that its earlier verdict may have been wrong,” said Sasikumar Varma, a representative of the family. The Nair Service Society, which had added muscle to the royal family, too has welcomed the latest ruling. The Sabarimala Action Council, a conglomeration of various Hindu outfits, meanwhile, is not taking any chances. It has decided to resume last year’s action plan to prevent any women venturing out to the shrine. Its squads, themselves devotees, have been already deployed at strategic positions on the way to the temple and around the shrine to keep a watch on “those women”.

Two parties, CPM and BJP, that tried to capitalise on the 2018 verdict failed miserably. If Pinarayi Vijayan thought CPM could make a political killing by allowing young women into the shrine on grounds of constitutional obligations, the BJP saw in opposing it a “golden opportunity” to gain political windfall. The subsequent general election saw the people of Kerala rejecting both the parties. CPM now cringes at the mere mention of a repeat of the “Pinarayi line” in Sabarimala this time. A government that went out of its way to get any woman to enter the shrine last year is now singing a different tune, its focus being on “activists”. “Sabarimala is not a place for activists to show their activism. They are doing it just for publicity. Government will not support such trends,” Kerala’s Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said. As for BJP, the then party state president who saw a golden opportunity in Ayyappa is now cooling his heels 2,297 kilometres away from Sabarimala, at the Raj Bhavan in Aizawl, Mizoram. The state unit is without a chief for over two months now. Things are not going to be easy for the Left Front government. Many activist groups have already announced their intentions to do “darshan” at the shrine. The government will not be able to hide behind the veil of “vagueness” in the court judgement.