Updated: February 7, 2021 1:15:26 pm
Saying that the entry of women of menstruating age in the Sabarimala temple still remains an issue, the Congress promised here Saturday that if voted to power, it would bring a law to make any violation of traditions at the shrine “a cognisable offence”.
The party released a draft of the proposed legislation even as the LDF government finds itself again in a bind over the issue. Asked on Friday about his government’s next course of action, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was noncommittal, repeating that they were waiting for the decision of a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the matter.
The Supreme Court had facilitated the entry of women of all ages to the temple in 2018. However, after a bunch of review petitions challenging the order were filed in the Court, it had referred some larger questions arising out of the pleas to the nine-judge Bench.
Senior Congress leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who released the draft of the party’s planned Sabarimala legislation Saturday, said, “The Congress wants a legislation to protect the age-old traditions at the temple. Violation of the traditions or any act challenging the traditions, as per the proposed legislation, would be reckoned as a cognizable offence. It would be known as the Sabarimala Ayyappa Devotees (Protection of Religious Rights, Customs and Usages) Act, 2021. Both the Centre and the state have rights to make legislation on the issue and if voted to power, the Congress in Kerala will introduce a law to protect the customs at the temple.” The Congress said this new Act would entail a punishment of up to two years in case of a violation.
After the Supreme Court verdict, the LDF government had facilitated entry of women who wanted to go to the temple, with Pinarayi aggressively pushing it in line with the Left’s and Kerala’s “progressive” credentials. But its enthusiasm has weakened since, particularly after anger over the issue was identified by the CPM as one of the factors for its rout in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. With the Assembly elections approaching, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala has made “the protection of traditions and customs at the temple” the central point of his ongoing state tour — pushing the CPM into a corner.
Asked whether Sabarimala would be a poll issue, Radhakrishhan said, “It is a matter that has hurt lakhs of devotees. The issue is still alive as the CPM government is not ready to protect the interests of the faithful. Around 50,000 devotees are facing cases, registered by the government during their protests against entry of young women. How can devotees forget the matter when they are fighting cases?”
The Congress hopes the Sabarimala issue will help it win the Hindu vote, particularly with the BJP emerging as a contender in the state. BJP national executive member P K Krishnadas asked on Saturday if Pinarayi was ready to “stand with the devotees”. “Only the BJP and Hindu outfits had stood with the devotees in the Sabarimala issue. The AICC and Rahul Gandhi had then supported the state government,” he said.
Contrary to the stand taken by its state leaders, the central unit of the Congress had supported the entry of all women into Sabarimala.
On Friday, CM Pinarayi questioned the Congress’s motives. “There is no problem at Sabarimala now. The UDF wants to make it an issue expecting it would win more votes. In the civic body elections, the UDF raised the topic, but people rejected it.”
On the Congress’s plans for a law on the matter, CPM state secretary A Vijayaraghavan said while the LDF had said it would act as per the Supreme Court directive, the Congress was trying to hoodwink the public. “People will see through the Congress agenda and their attempt to challenge the rule of law,” he said. “It’s not possible to make a law in a matter which is under the consideration of the Supreme Court.”
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