Reopening of centres of worship sets off a political storm in Kerala
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As was the case with quarantine of evacuees, reopening of places of worship in Kerala has also developed into a messy political controversy.

In line with the guidelines issued by the Centre, the Pinarayi Vijayan government had decided to let the places of worship reopen on June 8 at the end of the lockdown along with shopping malls and hotels and restaurants.

But in a surprise move, the managements of many of the major Christian churches and mosques decided to continue to keep their places of worship closed to public as the Covid situation in the state was not conducive to holding congregations and the risk of community infection is at its highest level.

They said they were only upholding their commitment for social responsibility and safeguarding the interest of devotees whose life and health are important to the community.

Taking cue from the churches and mosque managements, a number of temples under the management of Hindu organisations, including pro-RSS entities, decided not to reopen their temples for the time being.

This has led to a situation where all the major churches and mosques are closed, but some of the major temples such as Gurvayoor and Sabarimala, both of which attract large number of devotees, will remain open as they are managed by the government-constituted Devaswom Board.

BJP and other pro-Hindu organisations are alleging a conspiracy by the state government in keeping these temples open as these could become potential centres seen to be spreading the disease, similar to the case of Markaz Nizamuddin, the Delhi headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat group, which is considered to be responsible for the initial spread of coronavirus due to the large presence of infected persons there.

The BJP leaders allege that the temples are being reopened with an eye on their earnings, which are badly needed to shore up revenues of the Devaswom Board, facing a severe financial crunch in view of the prolonged closure of temples.

They say the government move will, however, bring discredit to the Hindus as responsible for a new wave of infection, just as the Tablighi Jamat episode had done to the Muslim community and have demanded that these temples be closed forthwith as the decision to reopen was taken without proper consultations with the religious and community leaders.

The Hindu organisations are asking their members to stay away from these temples.

The state’s minister in charge of Devaswom, Kadakampalli Surendran and Union minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan have been engaged in an unseemly exchange over the issue, with the former alleging ‘ignorance’ on the part of the Union minister about the decisions taken by the Central government.

Surendran asserts that the government has defeated the game plan by the BJP and RSS to inflate passions over the temples, similar to the Sabarimala issue, to make political capital. According to him, the Hindutva leaders were expecting the state government to resist the central guidelines to reopen places of worship.

This would have given them the opportunity to foment trouble by demanding that the devotees be allowed access to their places of worship as there was no justification to keep only these closed when other places like shopping malls and restaurants are allowed to open, he says.

The Devaswom minister insists that by allowing the places of worship to re-open, the government has thwarted the dubious game of BJP-RSS.

“They were hoping to create another Sabarimala and use it with an eye on the coming local body elections and later the assembly elections,” he said.

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Free Press Journal