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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Marxists blessed with right to manage temples

OUR BUREAU

April 21: Religion is the opium of the masses — and Marxists.

The Left has won legal sanctity to stretch Karl Marx’s signature maxim today with the Supreme Court ruling that managing temples “primarily is a secular act”.

The ruling came on a petition seeking to debar “Hindu” ministers of the erstwhile Left Front government in Kerala from the managing committee of the Guruvayoor temple, one of the richest shrines in the state.

Kerala’s temples, some of which are treasure troves, often become the playground for politics with successive governments, including those led by the so-called atheist CPM, packing the committees with their sympathisers.

The court today said a state government has the power to supervise the administration of a temple by nominating members to the managing committee.

The petition said the ministers could not be described as “Hindus” within the meaning of the Guruvayoor Devaswom Act as they have disowned their religion when they became party members.

However, a division bench of Justices H.K. Sema and S.B. Sinha said that “to debar all ‘Hindu’ ministers of (a) Leftist government from nominating members to the managing committee of the Guruvayoor Devaswom will lead to a stalemate in the management of the temple”.

The bench clarified that “management of a temple primarily is a secular act” and, hence, “undisputedly, the state has the requisite jurisdiction to oversee administration of a temple”.

The petitioners — the president of the temple protection committee and a VHP leader — had challenged a Kerala High Court judgment on the ground that the ministers owed allegiance to the Marxist ideology and were against any religious practice.

Justice Sinha, writing the judgment for the bench, said: “A Hindu admittedly may or may not be a person professing Hindu religion or a believer in temple worship. A Hindu has a right to choose his own method of worship. Idol worship, rituals and/or ceremonies may not be practised by a person although he may profess Hindu religion.”

“To insist on such a qualification in the electorate will be as bad as saying that when the law relating to a temple is under consideration in the legislature, only Hindu legislators can vote and they must further be qualified as believers in temple worship,” Justice Sinha said.

CPM central committee member M.A. Baby later told The Telegraph that the Marxists are not enamoured of their seats on temple committees but they are discharging their responsibilities when they are part of the government.

“It’s the elected representatives of the people who delegate this authority to the ministers who in turn make their nominations to the temple committees.

“Temple assets are often mismanaged and temples are hotbeds of maladministration. A government, whether of the Left or not-so Left parties, has the responsibility to straighten out matters. Therefore, it’s immaterial whether one is an atheist or a believer when it comes to the question of the proper administration of temples,” Baby added.

The CPM leader said rituals and ceremonies are the “forte of priests” and there would be no interference from any Left government.

In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, too, ministers are involved in temple administration and the state government, through legislation, has taken over the administration of almost all the temples.

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