Police detain BJP workers after they protest against Maharashtra government demanding reopening of temples as part of their statewide agitation amid Covid curbs, at Kandivli in Mumbai on Monday. (HT PHOTO)
Police detain BJP workers after they protest against Maharashtra government demanding reopening of temples as part of their statewide agitation amid Covid curbs, at Kandivli in Mumbai on Monday. (HT PHOTO)

Amid Covid curbs, BJP begins its temple run in Maharashtra

Key BJP leaders led protests across Maharashtra; party’s Aurangabad workers break open temple, held; Congress says BJP is flouting Covid norms
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON AUG 31, 2021 01:19 AM IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday staged protests across Maharashtra demanding reopening of temples and other places of worship. Key state unit leaders participated in the protest demanding opening up of temples and threatened to forcefully open them next week if the demand is not met.

BJP’s spiritual coordination cell organised the protest against Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government’s decision to prevent entry of general public to places of worship as part of restrictions imposed to check spread of Covid-19 epidemic. BJP’s state unit chief Chandrakant Patil asked all party workers, office-bearers and elected representatives to participate actively in the protest near their homes.

Significantly, three days ago, Union health ministry asked the state government to restrict religious activities and celebrations during upcoming festivals amid potential threat of third wave of Covid-19.

Patil led the protest at Kasba Ganpati temple in Pune, while former finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar led it at Babulnath Mandir in Mumbai. Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and MP Sujay Vikhe Patil participated in protest at Sai Baba mandir in Shirdi. Party legislator Ram Kadam staged protest outside Siddhivinayak temple at Prabhadevi in Mumbai.

Party’s Aurangabad leaders and workers tried to break open gates of Gajanan Maharaj Mandir in Aurangabad, following which police arrested the party workers.

Patil said that their agitation was not merely for the temples. “We have been demanding opening up of temples, churches and masjids as there is unrest among the people. It is the question of sentiments of 120 million people of Maharashtra. It’s time for the Uddhav Thackeray government to wake up and take decision,” he said.

Mungantiwar questioned why the state government, which allowed bars, liquor shops and malls to reopen and fully vaccinated commuters to take trains, is not allowing temples to open. “Temples in all other states have been allowed to open. Kerala, which have been reporting the highest number of cases, has allowed online darshan for worshippers. Then, why has the state government then opened other establishments? Maharashtra is the only state which has kept religious places shut. It is not true that [Narendra] Modi government has asked the state to keep temples shut,” he said after protest at Babulnath temple in Mumbai.

Kadam said they were demanding opening up of temples with some restrictions. “We are not asking to violate the Covid-19 lockdown protocols, but our demand is to allow worshippers to visit temples by following Covid protocols.”

However, those who participated in the protests were not seen following social distancing or other Covid protocols.

The Congress, one of the three ruling parties, alleged that the Maharashtra BJP was politicising the issue despite Modi government’s orders about imposing restrictions on festivals and religious activities.

State Congress’s general secretary and spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “Maharashtra BJP has been blatantly violating Modi government’s directions. They have been violating Covid-19 restrictions by crowding and not following Covid-appropriate behaviour. Why doesn’t the Maharashtra BJP protest against the Modi government for imposing restrictions on festivals? Modi government takes the state governments to task for rise in the number of patients, while party leaders have been indulging in crowding which will lead to rise in the number of patients. The BJP was responsible for intensifying the second wave, and now they are indulging in events to ensure advancement of the third wave.”

Sena leader Sanjay Raut said, “The BJP should first check whether temples are open in all others states. The Modi-led Central government has asked Maharashtra and Kerala governments to take utmost care amid high number of Covid cases, and not allow festivals. Then, action should be taken against it first for the curbs (on religious activities).”

On August 27, Union health and family welfare secretary Rajesh Bhushan had sent a letter to Maharashtra chief secretary Sitaram Kunte asking the state government to take due precautions during festivities. “In view of the mass events and public gatherings expected during the celebrations of upcoming festivals, including Dahi handi and Ganpati utsav in Maharashtra, it is advised that the state may consider imposing and enforcing local restrictions in public observation of these festivals and mass gatherings,” the letter stated.

Meanwhile, the BJP also attacked state government after videos of pujas performed by Sena leaders emerged. Aurangabad district president and legislator Ambads Danve held Kawad Yatra and performed abhishek at Lord Shankar temple in Aurangabad. BJP MLA Nitesh Rane tweeted a video in which sons of Guhagar Sena MLA Bhaskar Jadhav’s sons are seen performing abhishek at a temple on Monday. Danve claimed that he did not perform abhishek but just offered holy water.

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