A row broke out in the Travancore Devaswom Board on Thursday as its chief sought an explanation from the Devaswom Commissioner for reversing its stand on the Supreme Court's verdict allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine.
In a U-turn on Wednesday, the board which manages the Ayyappa shrine supported the apex court's order, joining the Kerala government to oppose a batch of pleas seeking review of the historic verdict in the Supreme Court.
The temple board, in earlier round of litigation, had opposed the public interest litigation by Indian Young Lawyers Association seeking to throw open the shrine for all women.
TDB chief A Padmakumar on Thursday said the board had actually submitted a plea seeking extension of time to implement the September 28 verdict permitting women of all age groups into the shrine.
"Our counsel got only three minutes when the review petitions were taken up (in the supreme court) on Wednesday. When the court asked whether the board was accepting the verdict permitting women's entry, he naturally replied in the affirmative.
"We are yet to know what had actually happened in the court," Padmakumar told reporters in Pathanamthitta.
"The Devaswom Commissioner (N Vasu) was the one who was sent to New Delhi in connection with the case. He knows the things...I have sought an explanation from him in this regard," the TDB chief said.
Padmakumar's comments assume significance in the wake of reports that the TDB chief, who had earlier opposed the entry of young women into the Ayyappa shrine, had differences of opinion with the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government and other board members over the sensitive issue.
Rejecting the charges, Vasu said the TDB had taken no decision without the knowledge of its president.
"...The Board had already made it clear that it was bound to abide by the SC verdict. The same stand was repeated in the apex court Wednesday also," he told reporters in Thiruvanathapuram.
Vasu rejected media reports that the TDB advocate had taken a stand contrary to the board's.
He also termed as 'incorrect' the reports in a section of the media that Justice Indu Malhotra, one of the members of the five-judge constitution bench hearing the petitions, had asked whether the TDB had changed its earlier stance on the women entry issue.
The Devaswom Commissioner said the TDB chief had not sought any explanation from him so far.
"There is no circumstance at present to seek any explanation over the matter. But I will be meeting him soon to brief the developments in the apex court. I just came from Delhi," he added.
When asked about the TDB's earlier petition seeking more time to implement the verdict, Vasu said the plea was filed citing the board's difficulties in implementing it in the recently concluded pilgrimage season due to dearth of facilities for women.
The board's changed stand had invited strong protests from various quarters including the Pandalam royal family, attached to the Sabarimala Temple.
The Pandalam family has been vehemently opposing the entry of women belonging to the traditionally barred age group of 10-50 years.
The temple body had told a five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, that it was high time that a particular class not be discriminated on the ground of 'biological attributes'.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala demanded resignation of TDB president following the changed approach on the Sabarimala women entry issue.
"TDB president has been wavering right from the beginning over the matter. First he said review petition would be filed which was changed after allegedly being threatened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan," he said in Thiruvananthapuram.
Chennithala said a petition seeking more time to implement the September 28 verdict was filed by the board later.
Both the government and the board had ignored the sentiments of devotees, he said, adding the TDB chief had no moral right to continue in the position.