Believers Only

An ordinance by the Kerala government cunningly bars opposition MLAs from temple trusts
It Happens
NO ATHEISTS ALLOWED Only those who believe in God can elect Devaswom Board members

Kerala’s opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) legislators are in a peculiar ‘spiritual’ quandary, thanks to a cunning ordinance on the state’s temple trusts by the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF). The Devaswom Board deals with the administration of temples in the state. Vast sums of money are involved in running temples, and being a board member—elected by legislators—is highly valued. The ordinance now says that only those who give a declaration of their belief in God can elect members of the three boards—Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. That effectively rules out MLAs of the Left parties since ideologically, they are atheists.

The ruling UDF, with 27 members, has fewer Hindu MLAs than the LDF, which has 48. The ordinance means that the 27 will now decide who gets appointed to the Board. The CPM has already called the ordinance ‘unconstitutional’ and will challenge it in court. Pinarayi Vijayan, the party’s state secretary, demanded that the government define ‘Hindus’. He said the Charvaka sect of the Hindu religion had been atheist. “If a Hindu MLA is a follower of Charvaka, will he be denied the right to vote?” he asked in a statement. From the Congress, unexpected dissent came from VT Balram, who refused to give the declaration. In an online portal, Balram wrote that the ordinance was not only unconstitutional but against the fundamental principles of secularism.

The move has been interpreted as the Congress’ bid to appease Hindus unhappy about the dominating role of the Muslim League in government. In that, it seems to have succeeded somewhat. Two Hindu organisations, the Nair Service Society and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, welcomed the ordinance, stating that non-believers had no business in spiritual affairs.

The UDF government says it has no plans to roll back the ordinance. “Why are they (the CPM) so worried about the administration of temples? Atheists have no business in Devaswoms. The government has nothing against LDF members. Any member who declares his belief in writing can very well participate in the process of electing Board members,” T Radhakrishnan, the state’s home minister, tells Open.