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Heavy crowd at Sabarimala shrine, CM Vijayan and Congress trade barbs

Heavy crowd at Sabarimala shrine, CM Vijayan and Congress trade barbs
Devotees queue up to offer prayers at Lord Ayyappa temple during the Malayalam month of ‘Vrischikom,’ in Sabarimala. (PTI Photo/File)

The Lord Ayyappa shrine witnessed comparatively heavy crowd Saturday, even as a war of words erupted over the government’s handling of the Sabarimala issue. Congress veteran and former Defence Minister A K Antony reportedly attacked the state government, saying it was encouraging the BJP and RSS on the matter. Hitting back, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the statement was with ‘ulterior motives’.

“Antony’s statement that the violence witnessed in Sabarimala was due to inept handling of the issue by chief minister and the DGP was with ulterior motives,” Vijayan said in a Facebook post. He said the government’s measures had been appreciated by the Kerala high court and this statement was to spread canards about the government.

Vijayan also said footfall of devotees had gone up at Sabarimala as all facilities had been arranged for them. Meanwhile, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala lashed out at the chief minister, alleging that he was acting as a “godfather” to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

He also said an “atmosphere of fear” prevails at Sabarimala due to restrictions imposed there and the government was not doing anything to ease the troubles of devotees. Amid the stand-off over entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine, Devaswom (temple administration) minister Kadakampally Surendran met Governor P Sathasivam and apprised him of the current situation at the shrine.

“The governor was very attentive to the issues relating to Sabarimala. He understood the issues there and wanted all stakeholders to cooperate to ensure peace and tranquility in the shrine,” the minister told reporters after the meeting.

The minister said the governor wanted the government to also focus on the rebuilding exercise of the state which was devastated by an unprecedented deluge in August.

The temple has been witnessing a moderate turnout of devotees after it re-opened for the two-month-long annual ‘Mandala Makkaravillaku” pilgrimage season on November 16, causing concern for the government.

The restrictions imposed by police at the temple complex saw lesser number of pilgrims coming in the early days. The restrictions were clamped following protests from devotees and right-wing outfits after the state government made it clear that it would implement the apex court verdict allowing all women to offer prayers at the shrine

The revenue from the shrine has gone down considerably and the minister expressed concern that it could impact the disbursal of salaries and pension of Devaswom employees. The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the hill shrine, has over 1200 temples under it which are all dependent on the revenue from the hill temple.

Meanwhile, a court denied bail to BJP general secretary K Surendran in a case relating to his alleged involvement in violent protests at Sabarimala earlier this month.

Surendran was arrested earlier this week from Nilackal, the base camp, after he refused to go back despite police request. He was produced before court and remanded to 14 days judicial custody and later granted conditional bail.

Subsequently, he was arrested in the case relating to the violence at the temple complex when a 52-year-old woman, who had come for the ‘choorunu’ (rice feeding ceremony) of her grandchild was blocked and allegedly attacked.

The state health department has issued H1N1 (swine flu) alert at Sabarimala since a lot of pilgrims from other states, where it has been already been detected, are coming to visit the shrine, according to officials. “Since most of the devotees are from other states, we have given instructions to all district medical officers to monitor the situation and step up preventive measures,” health minister K K Shylaja said.

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