Sabarimala: Left government's 'master plan' is to only 'harass' pilgrims, says Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan

Nilackal/Pamba: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) kept the pot boiling on the Sabarimala issue on Wednesday with Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan lashing out at the Left government, saying its "master plan" was to "harass" pilgrims, as the Kerala High Court slammed the police for its alleged excesses on devotees.

As the stand-off on the entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine continued, A Padmakumar, president of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that manages the shrine, said their aim was to have a peaceful atmosphere in the temple and the TDB was prepared to hold talks with anyone in the matter.

Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan. Photo courtesy; Twitter

File image of Pon Radhakrishnan. Twitter

In the midst of the tense situation, there was no rush of devotees and the 18 holy steps, which normally sees a heavy crowd, wore a deserted look.

Criticising the Inspector General of Police in-charge of Sabarimala and Superintendent of Police for the alleged action against pilgrims at Sabarimala and Nilackal recently, the court asked whether these officials had any criminal antecedents. The court also observed that experienced officials should be put in charge.

A division bench, comprising Justices PR Ramachandra Menon and N Anil Kumar, directed the Pathanamthitta district magistrate to produce all files and records which led to the declaration of Section 144 banning assembly of four or more people in Sabarimala 'Sannidhanam' and surrounding areas.

Hitting out at the CPM-led LDF government, Radhakrishnan said its "master plan" was to "harass" the devotees and not allow them to go to the Ayyappa temple. The union minister, who offered prayers at the hill shrine this evening carrying his irrumudikettu (holy bundle
with offering to Lord Ayyappa) was displeased with the manner in which Superintendent of Police Yatish Chandra had behaved with him at Nilackal, a base camp.

When the minister wanted to know why private vehicles of devotees were not being allowed to Pamba from Nilackal, while Kerala state transport corporation buses were plying, the officer explained that post floods the facilities at Pamba were meagre.

The senior police officer explained to the Union minister about the features of Pamba, an environmentally fragile area. He also said if the Union minister gives him in writing to allow private vehicles to Pamba, he was prepared to allow all vehicles. "He asked me whether I will take responsibility. Can the Superintendent of Police ask the same question to a state minister of Kerala? Will they allow him to ask this query?" Radhakrishnan asked reporters after offering prayers.

The minister declined to answer a question on the 28 September Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to offer worship at the shrine, saying "I do not want to go into that...my concern is with devotees. Do not harass the devotees."

State BJP general secretary, AN Radhakrishnan, who was accompanying the minister, alleged that the IPS officer spoke "arrogantly" and "misbehaved" with the Union minister. He said that the matter would be brought to the Centre's notice.

The Indian Police Service Association, Kerala chapter, on Wednesday night, had condemned the "continued personal attacks and threats" made against the IPS officers on duty at Sabarimala by certain individuals and organisations. "We strongly denounce the attack on officers on religious and personal lines," it said, adding that the association was exploring possibilities of moving the Supreme Court in this regard.

It also sought the intervention of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the matter. In a statement issued in Thiruvananthapuram, the association said comments purportedly made by the judiciary, as seen from media reports, personally on the officers' background, has also been highly demoralising for these officers who have been engaged following orders of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a court in Pathanamthitta district on Wednesday granted conditional bail to 72 people, including Kerala BJP general secretary K Surendran, who were arrested in connection with the Sabarimala temple row.

Surendran along with two others had been arrested on 18 November from Nilackal as he tried to proceed to the Ayyappa Temple despite being advised by police personnel against visiting the shrine due to law and order issues.

The 69 others were arrested after they held a nama japam (chanting Lord Ayyappa mantras) inside the shrine complex late on Sunday, defying prohibitory orders. Though it is 55 days since the Supreme Court delivered its verdict, no women in the traditionally barred age group of 10-50 years have made it to the temple.

Some devotees on Wednesday said they had no problem with the restrictions imposed by authorities. An elderly woman said she was happy that she could offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. "I have never had such a good opportunity to see the Lord," the beaming woman said.

Another devotee said he had been coming to the shrine for the past 12 years. "This year's was the most satisfying darshan," he said.

Opposition leader in the state Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala, submitted a memorandum to Governor P Sathasivam, seeking his immediate intervention to withdraw prohibitory orders in Sabarimala and surrounding areas and restore peace in the hill shrine.

The Ayyappa temple was opened on November 16 for the over-two-month-long pilgrimage season amid tension.

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Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 14:54:00 IST

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