Cong ‘bid’ to capture temple bodies triggers controversy

published on October 30, 2012

 The Congress-led ruling UDF’s alleged bid to capture power in Kerala’s temple administration bodies through an Ordinance amending key clauses in the relevant Acts is set to cause trouble in the religious scene of the State with the Opposition LDF and various Hindu outfits raising intense protests and several concerned parties preparing to challenge it in the court.

The Opposition has termed the amendments in Ordinance as unconstitutional and anti-democratic while the Hindu outfits are alleging that the Congress-led ruling front is out to capture power by creating “several categories of Hindus”.  They have also warned of intense agitations if the Government goes ahead with the Ordinance plan.

As per the amendments the Cabinet has decided to bring in to the existing Acts to ensure that power in the temple administration bodies falls into UDF hands, MLAs electing members to the three main temple administration bodies in the State should declare their faith in Hindu religion through an affidavit to have the right to vote.

There will be no separate reservation for women and scheduled castes/tribes. The tenure of the three main temple bodies – Travancore, Kochi and Malabar Devaswom Boards – will be two years instead of three, the prevailing norm. The Ordinance is expected to be promulgated soon so that new Devaswom Boards could be set up before the start of the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

The Government will nominate two of the three members each of the Travancore and Kochi Devaswom Boards while the third member will be elected by MLAs. As per the existing rules, the authority to elect the third member is with the Hindu members in the State Assembly, irrespective of whether they had taken oath in the name of God or not.

However, the amendments included in the Ordinance would make it necessary for the MLAs voting to elect the third member of the Devaswom Board to declare their faith in the Hindu religion through an affidavit. The Left says that this clause is unconstitutional and an affront on the elected people’s representatives in the Assembly.

Observers say that the new clause is being included as the UDF would not be able to get people of its choice elected to the Devaswom Boards as the number of Hindu MLAs on the ruling side is far less than that in the Opposition LDF. Of the total 71 Hindu members in the Assembly, only 24 belong to the UDF while the remaining 47 belong to the Opposition LDF.

“In such a situation, the UDF will not be able to constitute any of the three Devaswom Boards with people of its choice. To ask the MLAs to declare their faith is the only way it can overcome the problem because the UDF knows that MLAs from the communist parties are unlikely to declare themselves as believers,” said a senior journalist.

“The Constitution gives the right to a person to take oath as MLA in the name of God or otherwise. But as per the Ordinance, one is required to declare his/her faith in a particular religion in an affidavit if he/she wants to vote as an MLA. What kind of a rule is that? Such clauses have already been rejected by the court,” says State CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

The Women’s Congress in the State is protesting against the move to end reservation for women in the Devaswom Boards. According to State Women’s Congress president Bindu Krishna, the move to keep women away from bodies like Devaswom Boards is not acceptable in this age of women empowerment.

Kummanam Rajasekharan, general secretary of the Hindu Aikya Vedi, said the clause on declaration of MLAs’ faith was only part of the UDF’s strategy to capture power in the Devaswom Boards. “What is actually needed is democratization of the Devaswom Boards by including representatives of the devotees on it,” he said.

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