Consensus eluded a crucial all-party meeting called Thursday to resolve the stand-off over permitting women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala shrine with the Kerala government firm on implementing the Supreme Court order and the Opposition walking out in protest. After the nearly three-hour long meeting, dubbed as a ‘farce’ by the Opposition, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government was duty bound to enforce the court’s September 28 verdict allowing women of all ages to pray at the hill temple of Lord Ayyappa as it had not been stayed.
The meeting was convened by him in the backdrop of state-wide protests by devotees after the Supreme Court ended an age-old ban on entry of women in the 10-50 age group.
“The government has no other option as Supreme Court has made it clear that the September 28 verdict has not been stayed, which means women in the 10-50 age group have the right to visit the Sabarimala temple,” Vijayan told reporters.
Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP staged a walkout at the meeting, convened two days ahead of the temple’s opening on November 17 for the two-month long pilgrim season when lakhs of devotees are expected to throng the shrine.
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Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala accused the government of being adamant, while BJP state President P S Sreedharan Pillai said the meeting was a ‘waste of time’.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Pandalam Royal family, associated with the temple, told Vijayan that there was no change in its stand with regard to rituals and traditions of the shrine and it was against entry of young women.
The views were conveyed during talks held separately by the chief minister with the family member Sasikumar Varma and Tantri (head priest) Kandararu Rajeevaru on the issue.
“We are against the entry of young women. There is no change in the stand”, Verma told reporters adding Vijayan informed them about the limitations of the government vis-a-vis the court order.
Kandararu Rajeevaru said “we can only appeal to young women not to come to Sabarimala”.
At the all-party meet, Vijayan rejected the demand that the government seek time from the court to implement its order since a bunch of review petitions are expected to come up for hearing before the apex court on January 22.
The government cannot say that belief was above the Constitution, he said.
It put forward certain suggestions, including setting apart certain days for young women to offer prayers, instead of all days, Vijayan said, adding these had to be discussed with all stakeholders.
He said the CPI(M)-led LDF government was not adamant but was duty-bound to implement the court verdict.
Chennithala said the government was “adamant” in its stand and it refused to accept the Opposition’s suggestions.
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“We decided to walk out of the meeting after the Chief Minister’s reply. The meeting was a farce, government was not ready for any compromise”, he told reporters.
UDF was with the believers and wanted peace and harmony in Sabarimala, while the government’s aim was to “destroy” the pilgrimage, where lakhs of people from all over the world visit annually, he alleged.
“This is a declaration of war” on the believers by the government. The Chief minister and the government would be responsible for any violence or untoward incident in Sabarimala, he added.
BJP leader Pillai alleged Vijayan had come with a script prepared at the AKG Centre, the CPI-M’s state headquarters, and that attempts were on to convert Kerala into “Stalin’s Russia”.
“We will oppose the government’s decision in a democratic manner”, he said, adding an all-party meeting was called to elicit views of everybody and reach a solution, but the government snubbed the suggestions.
The “new found love” of the LDF government towards the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala showed its “malicious intention to impose atheism in society”, Pillai, a practising lawyer in the Kerala High Court, alleged.
Varma said the talks were held in a ‘cordial’ atmosphere and the chief minister put forward certain suggestions.
These have to be discussed with other members of their respective families, Verma and the head priest said. “We will examine it, hold discussions and take a
decision”, Varma added.
The state had witnessed a string of protests by Congress, the BJP, RSS and right wing outfits against the LDF government’s decision to implement the apex court verdict.
Frenzied devotees had prevented at least a dozen women in 10-50 age group from entering the temple when it opened for five days last month and two days this month for monthly and special puja amid high drama.
Social activist Trupti Desai has said she along with six other young women would offer prayers at the shrine on Nov 17 and sought protection from the state government.
The outfits opposing the court order have said they would resist through “Gandhian means” any attempt by young women to enter the temple.