Ex- SC Judge’s Remarks on Communist ‘Takeover’ of Kerala Temples Stirs Row
Representational use only.ImageCourtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Former Supreme Court (SC) Judge Indu Malhotra’s comments in an undated video shot outside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, Thiruvananthapuram, accusing communist governments “all over” of having “taken over” Hindu temples for revenue have triggered a controversy.
“That’s what happens with these communist governments. They want to just take over (the temples) just because of the revenue. Their problem is the revenue. All over they have taken over … all over, only Hindu temples. So, Justice [UU] Lalit and I said, no, we will not allow it (sic),” Malhotra is heard saying in the video.
Malhotra also says that she and then-Judge Lalit—appointed the Chief Justice of India (CJI) on August 27—stopped it in an apparent reference to the handing over of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple administration back to the Travancore royal family in July 2020. The royal family had challenged a 2011 Kerala High Court (HC) judgment which had given the maintenance rights to the Kerala government. Malhotra and CJI Lalit comprised the two-Judge Bench that reversed the Kerala HC ruling.
Right-wing bodies have been promoting a false narrative that the government of Kerala depends on income from temples for its financial needs. The Hindu Aikya Vedi made similar claims when Pinarayi Vijayan government decided to reopen temples during the pandemic. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also launched several campaigns insisting that devotees not donate to temples.
‘STATEMENT AGAINST FACTS’
K Radhakrishnan, Kerela’s minister for Devaswom, has refuted Malhotra’s allegations and accused her of “spreading a false narrative”. In a detailed statement, he explained the Left Democratic Government (LDF) government’s role in funding temples governed by the Devaswom Board.
“The allegations of the former Justice of the Supreme Court are against facts and are based on misunderstandings,” Radhakrishnan said in the statement.
“Neither the CPI(M) nor the LDF government has taken control of any temple in Kerala. The Communists had fought only for ensuring the right to worship for all sections of Hindus,” Radhakrishnan contended adding that the Kerala government had “taken steps to recover alienated temple properties and to ensure that all temple staff are paid regularly”.
The state government continues to allocate funds for temples in the Budget and other projects for improving the infrastructure, the minister added. When temples were closed for a long time during the pandemic and disaster struck in the form of massive floods, the LDF government stepped in with financial support to pay employees, he said.
“In the five years since 2018, the government has sanctioned Rs 449 crore through budgetary allocations and otherwise to the different Devaswom Boards,” the minister said.
The recent Budget earmarked Rs 30 crore for the Sabarimala Masterplan. In the financial year 2019-20, the budgetary allocation for development of Sabarimala temple alone stood at Rs 739 crore. The Travancore Devaswom Board was allocated Rs 100 crore and Rs 36 crore was sanctioned for the Kochi and Malabar Devaswom Boards,” Radhakrishnan said.
“The former Justice might have been influenced by the vindictive campaign of the right-wing forces that the government syphoned off the income from temples. The government has not taken any revenue from temples so far. Instead, it allocates funds for the functioning of the temples,” the minister said.
Radhakrishan accused Malhotra of “attempting to divert the anger of the people towards the LDF government by making false claims”. “We can only assume how the Justice would have performed her duties in the Supreme Court with prejudice”, he alleged.
Reacting strongly to Malhotra’s comments, CPI(M) leader Thomas Isaac accused her of being “deeply prejudiced against Communists”.
“Justice Indu Malhotra is ignorant of public finance of Kerala government, and worse, deeply prejudiced against communists. Not a paise of temple revenues enter Budget receipts while hundreds of crores are spent for facilities for devotees and to support temple administration.”, Isaac tweeted.
TARGETING THE LDF GOVERNMENT
The LDF government caused a “silent revolution” in 2017 by appointing 36 non-Brahmins, including six Dalits—who were once denied entry to temples—as priests in temples managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board.
Malhotra was the only dissenter in the five-Judge Constitution Bench of the SC which allowed women of menstruating age to enter the Sabarimala temple in 2018.
Malhotra’s comments are totally in contrast with her judgement in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Manu Sebastian of LiveLaw tweeted: “The irony in J Indu Malhotra’s statement is that the judgement in Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple case directed the Temple Administrative Committee to pay back nearly Rs 11.70 crore to the State Govt towards the expenses incurred by the State for temple.”
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