New Delhi: When protests over Sabarimala temple verdict broke out last year (2018), there were divergent opinions as to what the Kerala government should do or not do. Many said the sentiments of a large cross section of the people should be respected and the Kerala administration should hold things in abeyance and avoid hasty measures in the matter. And there was also a section that felt that an elected government's job is to implement what the highest court of the land orders. And that would be in the spirit of the Constitution, which is deemed sacrosanct for governance.

So when the Kerala government, riding roughshod over popular opinion and religious beliefs of centuries, sought to allow women's entry into the holy Sabarimala temple, many believers, even if they were uncomfortable with the turn of events, kept quiet as the Kerala government was following the diktat of the Apex Court.

The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Communist government in fact made a virtue of the fact that it was standing up for the tenets of the Constitution. So even when certain sections of the Communist machinery sent a couple of its women to provocatively gate-crash into the temple, many sided with the Kerala government as it was seen to be upholding the law.         

But all those tall talk and seemingly brave acts today stand exposed as duplicitous and self-serving (and dare one say, Hindu-phobic), as the Supreme Court has taken the Kerala government to task for not implementing its order on the long-standing Orthodox-Jacobite church dispute.

The Pinrayi Vijayan-helmed administration which showed ill-concealed speed to get on with the order on Sabarimala case just chose to look elsewhere and not implement a Supreme Court order of 2017 concerning the church dispute. 

The Apex Court decision was delivered on July 3, 2017, and it awarded the entire property and control of the Malankara Church to the St Mary Orthodox faction, including churches, parishes and cemeteries that today are under the control of the Jacobite Church. 

The fight between the Jacobites and the St Mary Orthodox Church is several decades old. At dispute is the ownership of around 1100 churches. The Jacobites have control over 400 of them, while the Orthodox group has hold over 700 of them. The real fight, as it always happens in such matters, is for the large parcels of land that the churches have ownership. That was the real crux of the issue.

But since the Jacobites constitute a strong vote bank, the Pinarayi Vijayan government did not show any urgency to implement the Supreme Court order. It dawdled over the matter, and since the election focus was over the Sabarimala issue, the whole thing got buried in the fevered exchanges.
But now, Pinarayi Vijayan government's chicanery has been exposed with the Supreme Court warning it with contempt of court.  The court said that it wouldn’t hesitate to send its chief secretary and other senior officials to jail for failing to implement the court’s verdict on the church dispute.

In fact, the Supreme Court felt extremely agitated by Kerala's convenient intransigence in the matter.

"Tell your chief secretary that if he intends to go against the Supreme Court's order, we will call everyone here. Is Kerala above rule of law? You are making a mockery of the justice delivery system," the court said. 

Indeed they were pointed words and stinging observations.

The opinion in Kerala is rather than the chief secretary, it is the Chief Minister who should be threatened with imprisonment. After all, the decision to not implement the SC order is a political one, taken at the highest level of the government.

The Kerala government, rather disingenuously, told the court that it was trying to broker an amicable solution between the two rival factions.

On this, the Supreme Court said: “If the Kerala government is going to act in this manner, we will not tolerate it. We are not saying in anger but with full responsibility. This is not the way in which the Supreme Court order should be dealt with. The law on the controversy is well settled and the court had passed the order but fresh petitions are being filed in HC and this court to waste time.” 

The court had  adjudicated on the matter four times before. The earlier verdicts too were in favour of the Orthodox faction, which accounts for 2.5 million members. 

Aside from the feud between the churches, the whole case has exposed the chicanery of Pinarayi Vijayan administration and its penchant for playing religious politics for electoral ends.

Perhaps, the Left government winning only one seat in the last general elections in Kerala was poetic justice.