Sabarimala tantri's word is final on temple issues, says TDB chief

Sabarimala tantri's word is final on temple issues, says TDB chief
TDB chief Padmakumar (C)

Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar has faced a barrage of criticism ever since the Supreme Court order on entry of young women in Sabarimala. The chief minister has made public his displeasure over Padmakumar’s stance and statements more than once. Rumours of his resignation or removal have been floating around since, his possible resignation after Makaravilakku being the latest.

M Padmakumar clears the air in an interview with Manorama's T B Lal.

Will you remain the president of the Travancore Devaswom Board after Makaravilakku? Is it true the government has already sought your resignation?

Such matters have not been considered even in anyone’s wildest dreams. I have carried out my duties in consultation with the CPI(M) and the LDF. I don’t believe anyone is displeased with me.

Does ‘anyone’ include the chief minister too, given that he has been quite vocal in his displeasure about you?

Pinarayi Vijayan used to be party secretary and state secretariat member. I too worked for DYFI and CPI(M). Some people only see a chief minister and a board president here. In fact he sees even minute details that I miss out in Sabarimala. Sure, I am prone to mistakes. As a chief minister, he has the responsibility to point out any that I may have made.

By protecting the interest of the party and ruling coalition on the Sabarimala issue, do you think you have failed the devotees who protested against young women’s entry?

I repeat… the real believer’s sentiments have to be considered. A solution has to be reached by taking them into confidence. At the same time, those elements that create problems on the streets over this issue need to be identified too. Those who backed the entry until yesterday are now unleashing riots. However, I don’t believe all the protesters are RSS affiliates. Misuse of an issue of faith for political gains cannot be tolerated.

Wasn’t the tantri doing what’s expected of him in his position? How do you respond to the allegation that you were arm-twisted in seeking an explanation from him?

Tantri is the final word when it comes to the tradition of the temple. I don’t agree with the argument that he has no authority. However, the tantri, board, government and courts, all have to remain in the limits of their authority. The Devaswom manual defines everyone’s roles very clearly, and there have been precedence in the form of court orders as to who has what all rights. We will reach a prompt decision once the tantri gives his explanation. We have to approach this sensibly, not sentimentally. The board backed out of a review petition in SC after an expert opinion found it would yield no result.

You weren’t aware of it when two women entered the shrine, but senior board member KP Shankaradas clearly knew it. It is also heard that he will be succeeding you.

It is unfortunate that poor soul is being dragged into such rumours. The board has no business in the discussions over the two women’s entry. Let’s leave it to the government and police. It is still unclear in what circumstances they entered the shrine. There is a sinister plot to show the board is divided. There are efforts even to attack temples and the families of its employees.

So you haven’t put in your papers. But have you kept a resignation letter ready in your pocket in case the government asks you to step down?

I am the first among CPI(M) leaders to reach this position. No other president has had to endure such harsh circumstances or undue criticism as me. Some say it’s Ayyappa’s curse. But I believe in the righteous path. Hence I have no such paper in my pocket.

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