Yatra politics peaks in Kerala as SC gears up to hear review pleas against Sabarimala verdict; Pinarayi Vijayan chairs high-level meet

With the Supreme Court poised to take up the petitions against women's entry in Sabarimala shrine, the Ayyappa devotees are in a prayer mode across Kerala. The Nair Service Society — a socio-cultural organisation of Hindu upper caste Nair community — which is at the forefront of the protests seeking protection of the temple custom and rituals, has asked its 5600 units to conduct day-long prayer sessions (Naamajapom) throughout the state.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has convened a high-level meeting of officials to review the preparedness of the official machinery to ensure the smooth conduct of the upcoming pilgrim season. The chief minister is also planning to visit Pampa and Nilakkal, the major hubs of protests by devotees against the implementation of the supreme court verdict.

Meanwhile, the political drama surrounding the hill shrine continued. The six-day Ratha Yatra led by BJP state presdient PS Sreedharan Pillai from the state's northern district of Kasargod is set to conclude at Pathanamthitta on Tuesday. The rally, which was flagged off on 8 November, has carried on till now without any communal tensions. Though Pillai spent lot of time defending the attacks on the party for its communal agenda, BJP leaders claimed that the yatra helped the party gain the support of Ayyappa devotees. The party is planning more agitations if the Supreme Court does not stay the 28 September verdict.

BJP's Sabarimala Rath Yatra is set to conclude Wednesday. Twitter @BJP4Keralam

BJP's Sabarimala Rath Yatra is set to conclude Wednesday. Twitter @BJP4Keralam

The Congress, on the other hand, is in the middle of its 'Belief Protection Yatra'. The party's movement launched against the politicisation of Sabarimala issue has taken state leaders across the length and breadth of Kerala. The rallies from Kasargod, Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram, Thodupuzha and Palakkad will culminate at Pathanamathitta on 15 November.

This comes at a time when the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up as many as 48 petitions challenging its earlier order allowing women entry in the shrine.  A bunch of such petitions would be taken up for consideration in-chamber by a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. Besides these pleas, three separate petitions seeking review of the verdict are also slated to come up for hearing in the open court before a bench comprising CJI Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph.

Meanwhile, the Kerala government is mulling convening an all-party meeting to ensure smooth conduct of the two-month seasons in case the Supreme Court refuses to accept the review and writ petitions.  "We are thinking of calling for an all-party meeting. We have not taken a final decision yet. There are plans...," Travancore Devaswom Board Minister Kadakkampally Surendran told reporters on Monday.

However, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has denied any such decision claiming that the Kerala government will wait out the period preceding the Supreme Court's ruling on the review petitions, and subsequently, will ensure that the decision of the Supreme Court is implemented.

The hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala opens on 17 November for the two-month long Mandala-Makkaravillakku pilgrim season in the backdrop of continuing protests against the Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages to offer prayers at the temple. Reports said that as many as 550 women belonging to the traditionally barred age group have registered for 'darshan' at the Lord Ayyappa shrine in the upcoming season.

Thus in view of these developments, state police chief Loknath Behra has called a high-level meeting of officers Tuesday to discuss the security plans at Sabarimala. The police has also made elaborate crowd-management plans to help facilitate darshan in the midst of protests at the flood-ravaged hill shrine. The new measures include an online booking system to control pilgrims and a pass system for vehicles.

However, despite these arrangements senior officials, in the know of things, acknowledged the fact that the police force may not be able to facilitate women's entry to the shrine in face of protests and threats of violence. Though Kerala Police have made a tentative plan to deploy 16,000 men in batches during the two month-long season, senior officers said they may fail to enable the entry of young women, recounting how the police force crumbled when the temple was opened for the monthly pooja in October and special pooja on 5 November. The state police force's strength is simply not enough to manage the security, as at least a lakh devotees are expected to visit the shrine every day during the season.

In addition to the protesters, the police will also have to take into consideration that terrorists and extremists might likely infiltrate the Hill under the guise of devotees and create trouble. Intelligence agencies at the Centre, and in various states, have already warned of this possibility. The Sabarimala special commissioner has warned that if the police use force it could lead to stampede resulting in death and injury to devotees at the shrine, the trek to which is literally a bottleneck.

With inputs from TK Devasia

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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2018 10:55:52 IST

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