(Eds: Adds details, reactions of Shiv Sena, Cong) Pune/Mumbai, Aug 31 (PTI) Defying the social distancing norms, scores of members of the Prakash Ambedkar- led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and Warkaris launched a protest on Monday demanding reopening of the famous temple of Lord Vitthal in Pandharpur town at Solapur in Maharashtra.
During their agitation near the temple, which has been shut due to COVID-19 restrictions, Ambedkar said they were waiting for a response from the district collector over the demand and added that 'I am here to break rules,' prompting the Shiv Sena and the Congress to hit out at him.
The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) is supporting the demand of the Vishwa Warkari Sena, an outfit of devotees of Lord Vitthal, which had given a memorandum to the Solapur district administration seeking that all temples be reopened in Maharashtra.
The police barricaded roads leading to the temple to stop the protesters.
During the protest, Ambedkar was seen asking the protesters to maintain social distancing and keep calm.
To a question on protesters gathering in a large number and there being no social distancing, he said it is the sentiments of people that have brought them to Pandharpur.
Reacting to it, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and opposition leaders will find a way out on the issue of reopening temples, and urged against talking about breaking rules at least on health issues.
He said Prakash Ambedkar is a 'patient leader, a student of law and a heir of Dr B R Ambedkar'.
'In such a situation, when a medical emergency is prevailing, for a key person like Prakash Ambedkar to speak the language of breaking rules is like provoking people,' Raut told reporters in Mumbai.
'We could see social distancing norms, which are key in combating the crisis, being violated blatantly today outside the temple. Thousands of people have gathered there and the disease can spread due to it,' he said.
The chief minister has not given permission for reopening temples sensing these pitfalls, he said.
He claimed even Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not in a mood to lift the lockdown completely, but (some) leaders are talking about breaking rules.
He said the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state is resuming activities hit by COVID-19 in a phased manner.
The state government will discuss the issue of reopening temples and resuming train services in the time to come, the Rajya Sabha member said.
'The opposition parties will do a favour to people of Maharashtra if they (opposition parties) observe patience,' Raut said, adding that leaders like Ambedkar, who have masses behind them, should speak directly to the chief minister or Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on the issue.
'But (they) should not hold people to ransom outside Vithobas temple in Pandharpur and not make the situation in Maharashtra, which is improving, tense,' Raut said.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said it was unfortunate that Prakash Ambedkar violated social distancing norms as he led the agitation in Pandharpur.
Representatives of sections of societies should cooperate with the government when a pandemic is prevailing, Sawant told reporters in Mumbai.
'I would like to tell Prakash Ambedkar saheb that there is Ambedkar in your name and (Dr B R) Ambedkar has drafted the Constitution. Hence, it is very unfortunate that you broke rules, he said. PTI SPK ENM GK GK