The BJP’s “Save Sabarimala Rath Yatra”, led by its state president PS Sreedharan Pillai, was flagged off by former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. The protest rally will wind through most districts before culminating at Pathanamthitta, the heart of the agitations. NDA convenor and Bharath Dharma Jana Sena chief Thushar Vellappally is also participating in the rally.
Just 20km away and after a gap of six hours, the Congress kickstarted its ‘padyatra’, led by state working president K Sudhakaran, from Perla. The Congress will take out five different protest marches with the slogan “safeguard belief” from Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Thodupuzha, Palakkad and state capital Thiruvananthapuram and they will all converge and finally conclude at Pathanamthitta as well.
Senior leaders like K Muraleedharan, Kodikunnil Suresh, KC Venugopal, Shanimol Usaman, leader of opposition in state assembly Ramesh Chennithala and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy will lead these protest marches.
Both the parties have strategised to target the Pinarayi Vijayan government for implementing the SC order allowing women to enter, rather than the court itself, as they look to capitalise on the issue ahead of the general elections next year.
The temple was witness to violent protests in the last few weeks as the dozen women who attempted to enter the shrine were forced to turn back by protesters.
While flagging off the rath yatra, Yeddyurappa said the BJP was not against the Supreme Court order, despite the protests.
“Our party is not against the Supreme Court’s order. But the sentiments of the people also must be respected. When 90 per cent of women devotees are against the order, it is our duty to oppose it,” he said. “A big national party like us should support it wherever in the country there are genuine protests,” he added.
Congress’s K Sudhakaran focused his attack on the CM. “Even hundreds of persons like the Chief Minister cannot change the rituals and customs. Chief Minister has the responsibility not to convert a high place such as Sabarimala into a riot spot,” he said.
Vijayan, who has repeatedly said he would not back down from following the apex court’s verdict, took a jibe at both the BJP and the Congress on Thursday, wondering where the protest rallies of the two parties would merge.
“Congress in Kerala termed Rahul Gandhi’s stand as his personal one and took the one from Amit Shah as its own… it is in such a pathetic state,” he said at a public meet of CPM in Thrissur aimed at explaining the issue to the masses.
The CPM has stood firm by its stand on the row as its state secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, categorically stated that the party won’t compromise for the sake of votes.
“We are not going to change our stand in the issue even if it means losing all 20 seats to Lok Sabha from the state. Ours is not a party which changes its stand according to the electoral wins and losses,” he said.
The BJP yatra is set to reach Pathanamthitta on November 13, the day when the Supreme Court will consider the review petitions against its September 28 verdict. According to the plan, the rally will reach its endpoint an hour after the court hears the series of petitions.
The mood for this year’s 41-day pilgrimage season which begins November 16, as well as the one for the 2019 polls in the state, will be adjudged there.