Since the SC has not given a fresh order and its earlier ruling stays, many Hindu bodies are planning to revive their Save Sabarimala campaign.

 

New Delhi: Kerala is on the edge again. With the Supreme Court deferring its decision on petitions seeking review of its 28 September 2018 order lifting age restrictions on the entry of women to the Sabarimala temple, the state is bracing for another bout of protests, and perhaps a couple of bandhs too. This is mainly because the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which controls the temple, chose not to seek time to implement the order. Many devotees in Kerala had hoped that the Board would stand by them. The Board has instead done a U-turn and has now supported entry of young women into the temple. Appearing for the Board, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi told the bench, “Now Board has taken a decision to respect the judgement.” Earlier, the Board had taken the stand that one must respect the tradition of not allowing women of menstruating age entry into the temple. The five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that heard submissions on behalf of parties, including the Kerala government, the TDB, the Nair Service Society (NSS), has not given an exact date to pronounce its next order as it has to study the written submissions. This is not going to happen before the temple opens for its Malayalam monthly pujas. The next Malayalam month of Kumbham begins on 13 February. The temple opens on 12 February evening and closes on 17 February night. Many women who could not visit the temple during the Mandala Puja have vowed to make another attempt during the month of Kumbham. After many somersaults, involving fudging of figures by the state government, it is now believed that so far only two women have had Ayyappa darshan after the SC order.

Now that the SC has not given a fresh order and its earlier ruling stays, many Hindu bodies owing allegiance to the RSS-Sangh Parivar combine and the BJP are planning to revive their Save Sabarimala campaign in view of the temple opening. Sabarimalal Karma Samithi observed a protest day throughout the state on Friday. It marked the occasion with chanting of “Sarana Mantras”. The BJP has now decided to shift its focus from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to the Devaswom Board. In the next few days it plans to mobilise public opinion, mainly among Ayyappa devotees, against the Board for its “betrayal of the faithful”. They will highlight the Board’s failure in safeguarding the customs and traditions of temples in the state. The current president and members of the Board, according to them, have colluded with the Left Front government in undermining its autonomy. The agitation this time will be for the removal of the Board itself and handing over the Sabarimala administration to genuine devotees. The state BJP leadership hopes to take this to its logical conclusion and use it as its main plank during the Lok Sabha elections. It plans to expose the CPM for its condemnation of the Centre for eroding autonomy of institutions such as the Election Commission, the RBI, the CBI, in the country while systematically browbeating the Devaswom Board into submission in the state.

Meanwhile, the credibility of TDB’s independence itself is under doubt with the president of the Board, A. Padmakumar, a former MLA and CPM member, reportedly not in agreement with the Board’s latest stance and then retracting the same. “I have sought an explanation from the Devaswom Commissioner, N. Vasu, as to what actually happened in the court,” Padmakumar was quoted as saying on Thursday. He had also threatened to resign from his post. The same evening, N. Vasu had met CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and then made a statement that the president’s post is “a political one” and hence Padmakumar had no right to question the government actions, but to follow instructions. This had given way to rumours that the LDF may remove Padmakumar from his post. Padmakumar, who in the past had changed his views umpteen times, did the same thing again on Friday. Claiming that he was misquoted by the press regarding disagreement with the government, Padmakumar said, “Devaswom Board will always stand by the government,” adding he had no intention to quit his post before November when his tenure ends. He had never questioned the government over its stand on Sabarimala, he said. Padmakumar’s statement came minutes after Kodiyeri, who is in Delhi for CPM’s Politburo meeting, told newspersons that there were no differences within the TDB over its latest submission in SC and that Padmakumar would continue as its president. “Everything is fine with TDB, there are no differences,” Kodiyeri assured. It is very clear that the party had asked Padmakumar to toe the government line or face consequences. This is bound to lead to more confrontations with the protesters during the five days the temple opens for devotees. It is during this short period that young women used to have “darshan” of Lord Ayyappa, which is a fact that certain vested interests are trying to ignore. That is the reason why more women are queuing up to visit the temple during this time. With the government readying to impose restrictions in and around Sabarimala once again, Kerala is going to face more troubled times.

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