By K Raveendran
The Modi government is playing a dangerous double game using a flawed Supreme Court judgment lifting the ban on the entry of women of reproductive age into the Sabarimala hill shrine by insisting that the Kerala government ensure enforcement of the order despite widespread opposition from an overwhelming majority of people. And an inept Pinarayi Vijayan government is playing into the hands of the BJP, in the process creating a dream opportunity for lotus to bloom in the otherwise most unlikely state, by allowing the saffron party to highjack the volatile situation to create disaffection among the people against communists.
For same inexplicable reason, the state government has been acting desperately to oblige the Centre, by somehow getting a few women to undertake the trek, so that it could show that the court order had been complied with. As no genuine women devotees of the debarred age were forthcoming to make the trip, the state government organised what ultimately turned out to be a ‘sponsored’ trip by two activist women in full riot gear, one of them a Muslim atheist, to the sacred shrine complex in a massive security drill. But as the heavily-fortified contingent was only metres away from the famed 18 holy steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum, devotee resistance erupted into a spontaneous protest, including a threat from the head priest to close the temple, while protests sprang up all over the state in an instant. This forced the stage-managed show to beat a retreat. The BJP has already given its war cry.
If it was Singur that proved to be the turning point in CPI(M) fortunes, leading to its virtual elimination in West Bengal, it may be Sabarimala that will do the trick in Kerala, which incidentally is the only Left bastion that remains in the whole of India. And it seems that instead of achieving a Congress-mukt India, the Modi dispensation may have the pleasure of seeing the back of communists.
By getting the Union home ministry to write to the Kerala government on the need to ensure strict enforcement of the Supreme Court order, the Modi government is acting as though it is the responsibility of the Centre to ensure implementation of all the orders of the apex court even in issues that are within the jurisdiction of the states. There is no reason for the Centre to intervene, unless there is a breakdown in public order or any such serious situation warranting summary action. And if the state government defaults, it is for the court to make it accountable. Ironically, it is the implementation of the court order that is leading to all hell breaking loose and not the other way around. So, the Modi government game is not difficult to see through.
Much of the blame for the trouble can be put at the doors of the Supreme Court, which has made a grievous error in arriving at certain conclusions. The first major mistake is in determining the nature of Sabarimala temple on the basis of the character of the body that manages it. Sabarimala temple is steeped in antiquity and to give it an identity on the basis of administrative arrangements by a board that came into being only in 1950 is simply preposterous. The court denied Sabarimala the status of distinctive denomination because the board manages several other ordinary temples.
It is not the fault of the deity Ayyappan, as a legal entity, that the Devaswom Board, under which the Sabarimala temple has been brought arbitrarily and by an administrative step, receives grant from the government. The Sabarimala temple is not run on money from the public exchequer. In fact, Sabarimala contributes massive amounts to the state exchequer, which the government uses for various purposes and only a fraction of it is spent on Sabarimala itself. In one season alone, the temple earns in excess of Rs250 crore. The court has ruled that Sabarimala is like any other public place of worship as it can be deemed to receive government grant. What an irony!
By branding all those who come to worship at Sabarimala as Hindus, the court is striking down the secular character of the temple, the quintessance of Sabarimala, and putting a question mark on the fundamental right of people like Jesudas to practice his religion as a Christian and yet be a devotee of Ayyappan. The peculiarity of Sabarimala, in fact, is that he can continue to be a Christian and worship at Sabarimala, which is not possible in any other temple in Kerala, where non-Hindus are strictly not allowed. So comparing Sabarimala to other temples is fraught with grave danger, which is what the court has done.
There are already some 25 review petitions filed with the Supreme Court on its order to lift the ban on the entry of women to Sabarimala. The government has shown a tearing hurry to enforce the court order, although there are precedents where implementation of sensitive Supreme Court orders has been put off due to fears of law and order problems, such as a dispute between two factions of the Church over a large number of properties, where status quo has been allowed to continue. The government could easily adopt such a course on Sabarimala.
(The post was first published in IPA Newspack.)