Sabarimala: Union minister Ponnar slams Kerala govt

Nilackal/Pamba: The BJP kept the pot boiling on the Sabarimala issue 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 entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine continued, A Padmakumar, president of the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the shrine, said their aim was to have peaceful atmosphere in the temple, and the TDB was prepared to hold talks with anyone on the matter.

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 were having any criminal antecedents.

The court also observed that experienced officials should be put in charge. A division bench, comprising Justices P R Ramachandra Menon and N Anil Kumar, directed the Pathanamthitta district magistrate to produce all files and records, which led to declaration of Section 144 banning assembly of four or more people in Sabarimala ‘Sannidhanam’ and surrounding areas.

Hitting out at the CPI(M)-led LDF government on the Sabarimala issue, Radhakrishnan said its “masterplan” 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 official explained to the union minister about the features of Pamba, an environmental 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 SP ask the same question to a state minister of Kerala? Will they allow him to ask this query?” Radhakrishanan 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, A N Radhakrishnan, who was accompanying the minister, alleged that the IPS officer spoke “arrogantly” and “misbehaved” with the union minister and said the matter would be brought to the Centre’s notice.

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

Some devotees 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. Both the BJP and the Congress-led UDF opposition have intensified their attack on the left government on the Sabarimala issue.

Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam, who visited the Sabarimala complex Monday, attacked the state government for turning the temple complex into a “war zone” and treating the pilgrims like ‘dacoits’.

BJP chief Amit Shah has said the government’s handling of the situation at Sabarimala was “disappointing” and alleged that the pilgrims were being treated as “Gulag inmates” and made to spend the nights next to “pig droppings.”

A delegation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), comprising congress leaders Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy, had defied the prohibitory orders Tuesday at the base camps at Pamba and Nilackal.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has alleged that the sangh parivar’s agenda was to create trouble by sending ‘kar sevaks” to take control of the sabarimala temple and make pilgrims “scapegoats.”

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