Temple tragedy takes centre stage in Kerala a month before polls | assembly-elections$top | Hindustan Times
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Temple tragedy takes centre stage in Kerala a month before polls

assembly elections Updated: Apr 17, 2016 18:42 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times
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CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury visits victims of the Puttingal temple fire at a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. (PTI File Photo)

A few days after the Puttingal temple firecracker explosions that killed 113 people, the tragedy is fast taking a political colour with opposition parties baying for government’s blood alleging serious lapses on its part. Ahead of the state assembly election, charges are flying thick and fast.

While the CPI(M)-led opposition is busy emptying its armoury to corner the ruling dispensation, the BJP is planning to highlight Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s quick response to the disaster. Though it enjoyed a slight edge in south Kerala, the Congress–led UDF is on the back-foot trying to counter the opposition barrage.

Citing strictures passed by the Kerala high court while hearing a PIL on Tuesday, the LDF alleged there were attempts by the government to silence Kollam district collector M Shainamol when she tried to prevent the temple authorities from holding the fireworks show that fateful night.

“The government should take responsibility for the worst-ever tragedy the state has witnessed. There are clear indications that intervention from high-ups, including a minister, neutralised police efforts –eventually leading to the disaster,” said CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

The high court had criticised the police, questioning why a case of culpable homicide should not be filed against the errant officers. Balakrishnan also alleged that two Congress candidates from the area exerted undue pressure on the police to allow the fireworks display – a major attraction of the week-long temple festival – in order to garner votes. The party also played recordings of speeches by certain leaders, who can be heard vowing to facilitate the fireworks display against all odds.

Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan sought the arrest of local Congress leaders who had allegedly pushed for the district collector’s order to be ignored. “The court has made it clear that the government machinery failed miserably in stopping those adamant on the fireworks display. The home minister has lost the moral responsibility to continue in power,” he said.

However, chief minister Oommen Chandy decried the “opposition’s attempts to politicise a major tragedy”.

“When the Left was in power, 110 people lost their lives in the Sabarimala stampede and many others died in the Thekkady boat tragedy. We never sought the resignation of any minister then,” Chandy said.

The Congress-led UDF is now planning to approach the Election Commission over some posters linking its leaders with the tragedy.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s act of rushing to the spot with a team of specialists from Delhi had taken both the ruling party and the main opposition by surprise.