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In the wake of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the famous Sri Krishna temple in Guruvayoor, Kerala on Saturday, there is intense speculation about the Centre bringing an ordinance to override the last September verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, hitherto a male preserve.

The clutch of review petitions on the issue of women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple is pending before the apex court but will not be taken up with any urgency, it is now clear. Though it was scheduled to come up on March, it was postponed as Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman in the five judge bench, had gone on medical leave and no fresh dates were given. Malhotra had dissented to the 4-1 majority verdict on September 28 last year that overturned a centuries old tradition and lifted the ban on the entry of women of menstruating age in the temple situated on Western Ghats. The Supreme Court had in November agreed to reconsider its September verdict and had fixed Jan 22 as the date for hearing. A bench consisting of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra were to take up the review. Of them, all except the CJI were part of the earlier bench.

The September verdict had set off a controversy and triggered violence in large parts of Kerala. The Sabarimala effect was seen in the elections too as the Congress totally wiped out the Left parties whose government was seen to be openly taking an anti-Hindu stand on the issue to appease the minorities. For the eight months, the state has been witnessing protests and demonstrations, led by the  Hindu outfits, the Bharatiya Janata Party and other right-wing organisations, who have accused the CPI(M)-led government of neglecting age-old customs and trying to implement the apex court order hastily.  The BJP-led NDA, though winless in Kerala has been pressing the Centre to bring an ordinance to override the top court’s verdict permitting young women’s entry at Sabarimala. At the height of the Sabarimala agitation and during electioneering, BJP leaders including PM Modi had assured the faithful that the NDA government would protect the centuries-old beliefs of devotees.

The PM was in fact blunt when during his campaign he alleged that the Communists were using brute force to strike at the roots of faith and expression. Kerala BJP leaders had also said during the poll campaign that once the BJP was back in power, the ordinance route will be taken to restore the status quo at Sabarimala.

—India Legal Bureau

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