BJP plans to intensify Sabarimala protests, spread stir beyond Kerala

November 18, 2018

As heavy police deployment and restrictions affected pilgrim flow to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, the BJP, which is leading protests against the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry of all women, has decided to bring in Union ministers and senior leaders to the hilltop shrine to keep the issue in focus. The party also announced its plan to take “save Sabarimala stir” to the neighbouring states.

An uneasy calm prevailed at Lord Ayyappa Swamy shrine on the second day of the 64-day annual pilgrimage season on Sunday but many other parts of the state witnessed protests against the arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state general secretary K Sudhakaran, who was held on his way to the temple Saturday night and sent to two weeks judicial custody. The party observed Sunday as a protest day, taking out rallies and hymn-chanting processions at many places.

The temple opened for annual pilgrimage season on Friday as a fierce standoff continued between the state government and protesters over entry of menstruating women to the temple, allowed by the apex court’s September 28 verdict.

Union tourism minister KJ Alphons is visiting Pambha, one of the base camps of the temple, on Monday and Union minister of state for finance Pon Radhakrishnan is arriving at the weekend. BJP president Amit Shah, who supported the Sabarimala stir during his recent visit to the state, is also likely to visit the temple by month-end.

“I am visiting Pambha on Monday to see arrangements. There are many complaints that devotees are facing innumerable problems due to heavy security and other restrictions,” Alphons said, adding the arrest of party leaders on their way to the temple was deplorable. The Nair Service Society, a socio-cultural body of powerful Nair community, has also condemned the arrest.
While the BJP seems determined to capitalize on the issue by positioning itself as the defender of faithful, the main opposition Congress, fearing a loss in its upper caste vote-bank, also took a deep plunge despite party president Rahul Gandhi’s reservations.

Desperate to make an inroad into the state’s bipolar politics, the BJP feels the emotional issue is a golden opportunity. Earlier it tried its best to woo the minority Christian community and later the backward Ezhavas but both initiatives failed to yield desired results. It courted Kerala Congress (Mani), but this predominant Christian party returned to the Congress-led United Democratic Front fold later. The NSS usually keeps maintains equi-distance with political parties but this time, it is on the forefront of the agitation and the BJP feels that its new camaraderie with the NSS will help it politically.

Amid the standoff and the political wrangle, pilgrims complained that they were worst-affected. “It is sad police are treating us like criminals. After trekking the five-km steep path, they are not allowing us to take proper rest. They are shooing us away. If the situation continues like this, the hill temple will lose its glory,” said a pilgrim from Andhra Pradesh who is a regular at the temple for 20 years. The Travancore Devasom board, which runs the temple, also said pilgrims flow was affected badly.

The row has taken a toll on preparations – the flood-ravaged Pambha remains a jungle of mangled concrete structures and the river is full of sand and slush. Despite its sorry state, pilgrims are still taking a plunge in the stagnant water.

Source : Hindustan Times

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