The situation around the entry of women into Sabarimala temple has worsened into a major public relations and law and order challenge for the Kerala government, with fresh criticism from the Kerala High Court and the Congress Party.
Kerala State Congress Chief Ramesh Chennithala today said the CPIM was trying to facilitate the growth of the BJP in the state and questioned why activist Trupti Desai was not arrested upon arrival.
“She should have been arrested and sent back to Mumbai when she arrived,” Chennithala said. “Instead, she was given full hospitality for 17 hours.”
Chennithala said the soft attitude towards Desai was part of the Left Front’s attempt to promote the growth of the BJP in Kerala.
The BJP, along with other organizations, conducted a day-long protest outside the Cochin Airport two days ago in an effort to prevent Trupti Desai from setting foot in Sabarimala and violating temple traditions.
The Sabarimala issue has become a major headache for the Left Front government and the Congress party, as the BJP has successfully tapped sentiments around the issue to increase its appeal to Hindu voters.
The issue has become a tug-of-war between the BJP, which is trying to keep the pot boiling, and the state government, which is keen to settle things down as soon as possible.
Even as the LDF was able to persuade Trupti Desai to return to Maharashtra without causing a confrontation, more confrontations took place yesterday after the police arrested suspected BJP and RSS workers from temple premises.
The police had imposed section 144 of the IPC, which bans people from assembling in large numbers, and has been trying to enforce a rule that bans pilgrims from staying at the temple overnight.
The measures are aimed at thwarting any attempt by the BJP and RSS to cause mischief at the temple site. This followed heavy criticism from media after BJP and RSS workers were seen directing crowds when the temple was opened for a day ten days ago.
However, in their implementation, these curbs have caused much consternation to ordinary pilgrims, particularly those who trek to the shrine at night and wait at the temple for darshan at daybreak.
The BJP has been using social media to portray police’s attempts to clear the temple at night as an encroachment on pilgrims’ rights.
Photographs showing the police waking up pilgrim groups — including children — and asking them to clear the temple premises have been widely circulated.
Police has also blocked BJP leaders from trying to make the trek to the temple.
Ramesh Chennithala blamed the “incompetence” of the state government for the current mess in Sabarimala.
He also asked the government to relax the curbs placed at the temple premises.
“We will violate section 144 if it is not withdrawn, and will also be forced to go ahead with strong agitations,” he said.
Chennithala said the Congress will send a party of agitators to the temple tomorrow, marking a departure from the earlier stand that the party will not take to street protests.
Meanwhile, the state government is also learnt to be exploring the option of inviting central police forces for crowd control at Sabarimala, in an effort to deflect some of the negative publicity from the state government.
HIGH COURT INTERVENTION
Reports of police heavy-handedness even led to the Devaswom bench of the Kerala High Court raising tough questions on the matter today.
The court asked the government to explain whether reports of police blocking devotees entering the temple were correct.
It remarked that the police should be kept in the barracks and that abuses by the police cannot be carried out in the name of implementing the Supreme Court order.
It also wanted an explanation on reports that the police had muddied the area around the temple to prevent pilgrims from resting there.
The High Court bench has also asked the advocate general to explain the situation in the afternoon today.
The court pointed out that political parties may try to take advantage of the situation, but that cannot be an excuse to cause hardships for genuine pilgrims.