CPI chief says no change in Sabarimala affidavit; Cong, BJP slam stand

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(Eds: Recasts, adds background) Thiruvananthapuram, Mar 22 (PTI) The CPI, the second largest partner in the ruling LDF in Kerala,on Monday made it clear there will be no change in the state government's stand before the Supreme Court that a decision on entry of women in menstrual age into the famous Sabarimala hill shrine should be taken by a panel of experts and scholars of Hindu dharm.

While the CPI maintained that the affidavit took the position that it was not for the government to decide the issue of allowing women in the traditionally barred age group of 10-50 into the temple of Lord Ayyappa, the BJP claimed the affidavit backed their entry into Sabarimala.

The principal opposition Congress also attacked the LDF, saying the CPI's statement meant the government still backed entry of young women.

As the poll fever hots up for the April 6 assembly elections, the opposition fronts led by the Congress and BJP have been raking up the Sabarimala issue, keen to know whether the state government waswilling to make any change in the present affidavit in the case, pending in the apex court.

Addressing a campaign meeting in Kottayam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been insisting on putting the issue on the backburner citing the pending review pleas in the Supreme Court, saidsome people were trying to raise it during election time.

'No need to raise it now...let's think about other things after the final verdict,' Vijayan said, adding thatthe government had granted Rs 1,487 crore for improving the amenities of pilgrims at the hill temple.

Talking to a private channel, CPI statesecretary Kanam Rajendran said the government has alreadytaken a stand on its original petition on the matter and 'it would be continued'.

According to the CPI leader, the affidavit had clearly stated that it wasnot the government, but a panel of experts and scholars of'Hindu dharm' which should take a final decision on the entryof young women at the hilltop temple.

'The state government and the Travancore Devaswom Board (which manages the shrine) have taken a stand in the originalpetition regarding the matter and the same position will continue',Rajendran said adding it was not for the government to take a final decision onthe customs and traditions of the temple.

'The government had said (in the affidavit) that apanel of scholars and experts, proficient in Hindu Dharm,should be set up and the final judgment should be pronounced after taking into account its opinion on the women's entry.The government will continue with this stand,' he said.

Claiming that the Left front government's affidavit backed women's entry into Sabarimala,BJP state president, K Surendran, said the CPI leader's stand that there was no change in it, would turn the holyland into a riot-hit area again.

He was referring to widespread protestsled by a section of devotees and right wing outfitsagainst the LDF government decision to implement the Supreme Court order allowing entry of women of all ages into thehilltop shrine two years ago.

'If the CPI(M) continues its move to destroySabarimala, the agitation will start again. We are ready tofight from the front again for devotees,' he said during an election campaign at Nariyapuram.

He also said if the BJP-NDA government comes to powerin the state, Sabarimala would be liberated from the clutchesof politicians.

Criticising Rajendran, senior Congress leaderK Muraleedharan said the 'insincere' approach of the Marxistgovernment towards Sabarimala has been exposed through Rajendran's statement.

'Kanam Rajendran says that the LDF government will notmake any change in the existing affidavit.That means, thethe government is still sticking to its stand of allowing young women's entry in Sabarimala. They want devotees' vote but theyare not ready to change their stand,' he said.

The government was giving all support to destroy thecustoms and traditions of the shrine, Muraleedharan, also theUDF candidate in Nemom, alleged.

Meanwhile, TDB president N Vasu said it was thegovernment which had to take a decision on the affidavit.

'There has been no issue at Sabarimala for the lastthree years...festivals have been going on in a peacefulatmosphere.

There has been no complaint of violation of any customs or traditions,' he said, adding the presentcontroversies would only help destroy the peaceful atmospherein Sabarimala.

Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran had recently expressed regret over the incidents witnessed in the hill shrine in 2018.

However, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has rejected it, saying the party stance on the matter remained the same.

It was the apex court which pronounced the verdict allowing women of all age to enter the temple and the state government was duty-bound to implement the verdict, he had said. PTI LGK UD VS VS