The Kerala government’s move to ban arms training, drills and gatherings for non-spiritual purposes in temple complexes comes in the background of rising political violence in the state involving CPM and BJP cadres. Though the government order is yet to be notified, the Sangh Parivar leadership in the state has protested the move, claiming it is being targeted. Earlier, state Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran, who oversees the management of temples, had alleged on social media that the “RSS is converting temples into a place for concealment of arms and training”. He also said that “using temples for arms and physical training of any organisation amounts to injustice to the faithful”. The RSS has defended its presence in temple premises claiming that the faithful haven’t complained about its activities. However, the law seems to support the minister’s contention. The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988, says that “no religious institution or manager shall use or allow the use of any premises belonging to, or under the control of, the institution for the promotion or propagation of any political activity”, or “allow the entry of any arms or ammunition or of any person carrying any arms or ammunition into the religious institution” barring certain exceptions linked to faith (as in the wearing and carrying of a kirpan) or ritual in the institution established by custom or usage.
The growth of the RSS — and the BJP — in Kerala is linked to their involvement in temple affairs and related activities. In recent times, the CPM too has tried to enter these spaces. From organising Janmashtami processions to offering facilities for Sabarimala pilgrims, the CPM has tried to shed the perception that it is against religion and faith and has tried to mobilise around faith matters. The rising religiosity among all communities has been to the advantage of organisations like the RSS. Already, Kerala, reportedly, is home to the largest number of RSS shakhas in the country — over 5,000 — and the past three years have seen a spurt in the organisation’s growth. The CPM and RSS share a long history of animosity and tensions between the two outfits have come to a boil since the Left was voted to office in May this year. There have been at least 300 incidents of violent clashes involving the two groups and six people have died. Now the Devaswom department’s move to make temples off limits for “non-spiritual activities” could open a new battlefront between the Sangh Parivar and the CPM.
Settling political differences through physical intimidation is primitive. For the state’s sake, both sides must avoid any further violent confrontation. The CPM, as the state’s largest political organisation and the party in power, must take the lead.