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Sabarimala row: Temple Board to hold meeting with stakeholders amid escalating protests

The doors of the revered shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is scheduled to open on October 17.

Sabarimala row: Temple Board to hold meeting with stakeholders amid escalating protests

Thiruvananthapuram: Travancore Devaswam Board, which manages Kerala`s Sabarimala temple, will hold a meeting with all stakeholders on Tuesday to discuss 'various aspects', including preparations for the annual pilgrimage season which begins next month.

Importantly, the doors of the revered shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is scheduled to open on October 17, implementing the recent Supreme Court`s verdict that lifted a ban on entry of women aged between 10-50 years into the temple.

According to reports, the board has extended its invitation to the representatives of Pandalam Royal Family, Sabarimala temple priests and their organisation and Hindu outfits for a meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting will be held at Devaswom board office in Trivandrum, said TDB president A Padmakumar.

During the meeting, which is scheduled to begin around 10 AM at the Devaswam Board`s office in Thiruvananthapuram, the current situation surrounding the uproar among a section of followers against the apex court ruling will also be discussed.

On September 28, the apex court allowed women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple saying that "no physiological and biological factor can be given legitimacy if it doesn`t pass the test of conditionality".

Although many, including the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government, have welcomed the decision, a section of followers has been staging protest across the country opposing the ruling.

Meanwhile, the BJP has set a 24-hour deadline for the Kerala government to resolve the Sabarimala temple row or be prepared to face consequences.

Chanting mantras of Lord Ayyappa and waving party flags, thousands of BJP workers on Monday trooped into the Kerala capital demanding that the Left Front government file a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict allowing female devotees of menstrual age to offer prayers at the shrine.

With the contentious issue fast acquiring political overtones, BJP workers and sympathisers, including a large number of women, laid a virtual siege to the state secretariat in a massive show of strength against the government which has said it would enforce the apex court's order and not go for a review.

The protesters, some clad in black and many others carrying garlanded pictures of the eternally celibate deity, had begun the "Save Sabrimala March" from Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district to Thiruvananthapuram, a distance of around 90 km, on October 10.

Addressing the gathering outside the secretariat, BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao assailed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for the government's decision against filing a review petition.

"Ayyappa devotees not only in Kerala but across the country are disturbed by the recent developments. The state government is responsible for the crisis," he said.

The protest march concluded just two days before the Sabarimala shrine opens to the public on October 17. 

It would be closed on October 22 after the five-day monthly puja during the Malayalam month of Thulam.

Enforcing the Supreme Court order allowing girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age into the shrine could be a daunting task for the government with several religious outfits threatening protests.

The state's Industries Minister, E P Jayarajan, meanwhile, accused the 'Sangh Parivar' and the Congress of trying to incite violence over the emotive issue.

"The Congress and the Sangh Parivar are deliberately trying to trigger violence under the cover of the Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple," he said and added it was the government's duty to implement the court's order.

He, however, noted the government does not want any confrontation with Ayyappa devotees. He said women in the state were being "misled" by people with "vested interest".

The BJP, a marginal player in Kerala politics, has been extremely critical of the Communist government's decision against seeking a review of the Supreme Court order, while the Congress, which earlier welcomed it, changed tack and said it was with the Ayyappa devotees.

Politics in Kerala has been dominated for years by the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front spearheaded by the Congress, and political power has alternated between the two for decades.

The divergent stand of the Left and the Congress, which may seek to align at the national level before or after the Lok Sabha polls next year, stems from their adversarial relations in Kerala politics.

The BJP, despite expanding its presence in the state over the last few years, largely remains a fringe player. 

The BJP and its local partner Bhartiya Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) pocketed over 14 percent votes in the 2016 assembly polls but the saffron party could manage to win just one of the 140 assembly seats.

The BJP-RSS cadre is locked in bloody feuds with the CPI(M) for quite some time, leaving scores of people dead over time.

Addressing Monday's gathering outside the secretariat, speaker after speaker claimed there was a "conspiracy" to destroy the tradition of the hill shrine to which lakhs of devotees flock every year during the pilgrim season beginning in the middle of November.

Several NDA leaders including actor-turned-MP Suresh Gopi, Nalin Kumar Kateel, BDJS chief and Rajya Sabha MP Thushar Vellappally and state BJP president P S Sreedharan Pillai were at the forefront of the march.

"We will meet each villager in Kerala and chalk out a massive agitation plan to protect the Sabarimala Temple, its centuries-old traditions and the sentiments of Lord Ayyappa devotees," Pillai asserted.

He said if the government failed to resolve the issue "in the next 24 hours", the NDA will formulate an elaborate programme to "reach our goal".

(With Agency inputs)