Sabarimala row: Pinarayi Vijayan fails to placate Pandalam royal family; police brace for showdown

After failing to break an impasse with parties over the entry of women into Sabarimala temple, the Kerala government faced another setback on Thursday as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan failed to reach consensus with the Pandalam royal family and the shrine's head priest Kandararu Rajeevaru.

India Today quoted Vijayan as saying that the government was bound to implement the Supreme Court order allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Lord Ayyappa temple.

"We are not in support of women’s entry and that has always been our stand. We had a civil discussion over this," Pandalam royal family representative Sasikumar Varma was quoted as saying by CNN-News18.

Varma further said that the chief minister told the royal family can instead advise women to not come to temple. "The state government explained the procedure that it is following. They said that they cannot deny entrance of women, but if you (Pandalam family) can propagate women to not to come to Sabarimala, that will also be good," Varma said.

Officials said prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC banning assembly of four or more people would be in force in Sabarimala in Kerala from midnight Thursday for a week.

DGP Loknath Behra told reporters at the Nilakkal base camp that the police was preparing for all kinds of situation that might come up when the pilgrimage begins.

The Kerala government is taking efforts to build consensus as the hill shrine is scheduled to open on 17 November for 66 days for 'Mandala Mahotsavam' — the two-month long pilgrim season. Though the sanctum sanctorum will open at 5 pm on Friday, pujas will only be held from the next day, the first day of Malayalam month of 'Vrischikom'. However, devotees will be allowed into the shrine from 5 pm to 10 pm on Friday.

Over 15,000 personnel, including women police personnel and 860 women civil police officers, would be deployed during the season, when lakhs of devotees from different parts of the country are expected to throng the shrine.

Earlier on Thursday, during a nearly three-hour-long all-party meeting, the Opposition parties made a demand for putting off the implementation of the apex court order till 22 January — when the review petitions against the verdict are slated to come up for hearing.

Rejecting the demand, Vijayan pointed out that since the court had not stayed its 28 September verdict, there was no other option but to allow women in the age group of 10-50 years during the upcoming pilgrim season.

As no consensus emerged, Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP staged a walkout at the fag end of the crucial parleys.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government was duty bound to enforce the Supreme Court allowing women of all ages to pray at the temple of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala. News18

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government was duty bound to enforce the Supreme Court allowing women of all ages to pray at the temple of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala. News18

Speaking to reporters, Vijayan said the government had convened the meeting without any prejudice. "The government was not stubborn. But had no other option, but to implement the apex court verdict. If tomorrow the court takes another decision, the government will follow that," he said.

The chief minister, however, said the government "is with the believers. There is no need for any concern", he said, adding the government will provide security to all devotees.

Announcing the walkout, Leader of the Opposition in Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the government was "adamant" in its stand to implement the court verdict and was not prepared for any compromise.

"This is a challenge to the believers," he said alleging that the government was trying to "weaken" the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

Attacking the government, BJP state unit chief  PS Sreedharan Pillai said the meeting was a "waste of time".

High drama expected on Saturday

Social activist Trupti Desai has planned to visit the Sabarimala temple on Saturday. She recently wrote to Vijayan to seek police protection for her group, right from the time they land in Kerala till they leave the state. She, along with six other women, will be arriving in the state on Friday.

However, Tantri family's Rahul Eashwar along with activists and devotees told the media on Wednesday that Desai would know the power of the faith of Ayyappa devotees when she and her group reach the temple town.

"Come, what may, we will ensure that our protest will be in the true Gandhian way and none will be able to break the tradition of the temple.

"We will lie down before the women who come to break the temple tradition and if they have to move forward, they will have to walk on our bodies and once that happens, the police will have to arrest such people," said Eashwar.

The state had witnessed a string of protests by Congress, the BJP, RSS and Right-wing outfits against the LDF government's decision to implement the apex court verdict.

Frenzied devotees had prevented at least a dozen women in 10-50 age group from entering the temple when it opened to devotees for five days in October and two days in November amid high drama.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Nov 15, 2018 23:51:56 IST

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