Kerala BJP chief says Sabarimala protests proceeded according to its 'agenda,' puts party in a spot of bother

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has put the Sabarimala thantri (high priest), as also various outfits protesting the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple, in an embarrassing position by claiming that the latter had surrendered to the saffron party’s political agenda.

The claim was made by state BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai while speaking at a closed-door meeting with workers of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the party, at Kozhikode on 4 October.

In the audio and video clips of the speech leaked to the media, Pillai was heard claiming that the protests against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s move to implement the apex court order had proceeded according to the party’s agenda.

He claimed that the police had dropped the move to take women between the age group of 10 and 50 to the temple after the thantri, Kandararu Rajeevaru, had announced his decision to close the shrine if the women brought to the hill top by the police during the monthly pooja last month were to enter the temple.

Pillai was quoted in the video clip as saying that the thantri had taken the decision after he assured him of all protection. “The high priest was worried about the contempt of court proceedings the action may entail. He agreed to announce the decision after I allayed his fears about the legal proceedings," said Pillai.

Police checking pilgrims at Pampa. Image: Arun Mohan

Police checking pilgrims at Pampa. Image: Arun Mohan

The BJP leader, who is a leading criminal lawyer in the high court, said that he had assured the thantri that he and thousands of his party workers were ready to rally behind him if any action was initiated against him. He took the bold stand following this support, Pillai claimed.

The state BJP chief disclosed that the protests were coordinated by a youth leader of the party. He said that the Supreme Court verdict was a golden opportunity for the party to implement its agenda in the state and added that the youth leader’s intervention had helped the party in making best use of the opportunity.

Pillai's revelation has been viewed by leaders of rival parties as an open admission of the conspiracy hatched by the BJP to use the apex court verdict for communal polarisation. Communist Party of India state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the violent incidents during the monthly pooja were part of an agenda, and urged the government to order a high-level inquiry into it.

“The BJP leader had initially supported the Supreme Court verdict. He changed his stand after devotees came out against it. The BJP has hijacked the protests and tried to fuel communal passions for its political gains. The party has cheated the devotees and the priests,” Balakrishnan said.

The CPM leader said it was unfortunate that the thantri, who is supposed to be above politics, had played into hands of the BJP. He further said that the thantri owes an explanation to the devotees for becoming party to the BJP’s political game. The thantri could not be contacted as he has been barred from talking to the media by the police, who have also installed a mobile jammer near his office at annidhanam.

Balakrishnan also urged the state Congress leadership to examine whether it had fallen into the BJP's trap by extending support to the devotees. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala denied the charge. He pointed out that the party had decided not to use party flags for the protests as it did not want to garner political capital from Sabarimala. He claimed that his party’s support to the devotees was consistent with its stand on the issue.

“The previous government had opposed women’s entry into Sabarimala when the petition was taken up by the Supreme Court for hearing. The subsequent CPM-led government reversed the stand and supported the petitioners, without realising the religious sentiments of the devotees,” he added.

Ramesh said that both the BJP and the CPM have been cheating the devotees, who have had a harrowing time while making the trip to the shrine following the Supreme Court verdict. While the protests, spearhead mostly by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar outfits, have kept many devotees away from Sabarimala, the massive police deployment has caused a lot of hardship to those who came to the shrine.

The devotees who came for the Chithira Atha Visesham pooja on Tuesday had to face several questions and checking by the police at multiple places. Hundreds of devotees who came from faraway places in Kerala and the neighbouring states remained stranded at Erumeli, Nilackal and other entry points due to restrictions imposed by the police on their movements.

The police allowed private vehicles to proceed from Erumeli to the main gateway at Nilackal only after the devotees, who had been camping there since Sunday night, staged protests. They, however, had to wait for several hours at Nilackal as the police did not allow the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses to go to Pampa until 11 am.

After heated arguments with the police, many proceeded to Pampa by foot. The police had initially allowed only those with irumudi kettu (a travel kit of Sabarimala pilgrims) to go to Pampa. They relaxed the condition in the wake of protests. However, they allowed the devotees to go only after showing identity and address proof.

Many devotees expressed their anger towards the police. “We came to Sabarimala due to its spiritual ambience. It has been marred by the police. This is the first time in 45 years that I have found the condition in the holy place so depressing,” said Suresh, a devotee who came from Kollam district.

The massive police security has also made life difficult for people living near Sabarimala. Rajesh, who lives in Attathodu colony, said he was stopped by the police at several places on his way to Pampa for his work, and was asked to provide his identity proof. He said that many like him in the colony have been facing this problem whenever the temple has been opened after the Supreme Court verdict.

Sreekumar Varma of the erstwhile Pandalam royal family, the custodian of the jewellery of the Sabarimala temple, said he was hurt by the way the police have taken control of the hill shrine.

"Earlier, the pilgrimage to Sabarimala used to be a peaceful one. But today, the temple has been turned into a police station. It pains us all," said Varma.

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Updated Date: Nov 05, 2018 20:29:45 IST

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