Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray

Maharashtra government on Saturday allowed temples and other religious places to reopen from Monday. The government headed by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has urged citizens to follow social distancing and COVID-19 protocols while entering religious places.

The decision was taken by the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government as the demand for reopening religious places was growing louder in Maharashtra. The priests had threatened to go on an indefinite strike against the state government if their demands were not met. The deadline that was earlier given to the Maharashtra government to decide on reopening of temples was November 1.

Over the past several weeks, sadhus have staged protests against the closure of temples in Maharashtra despite the Centre easing the lockdown restrictions that were imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Thackeray had last week said that temples and places of worship in the state will reopen soon. He had also hinted at the reopening of schools for Classes 9 to 12 after Diwali. "We are considering to reopen schools after Diwali while taking all precautionary measures. Religious places will also be allowed to open."

Earlier, opposition BJP and Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi had held separate protests demanding the early opening of temples. Some organisations affiliated with the RSS-BJP had made similar demands.

On facing protests, the chief minister had said he was getting flak for going slow on reopening of places of religious worship. "We are being careful and not re-opening temples as people will queue up. I am delaying reopening of temples to curb the spread of coronavirus. I am ready to face criticism and those critics will not come forward to take responsibility if virus infection increases," Uddhav Thackeray said.

This came a month after exchange of letters between Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari and Thackeray over the issues. Last month, Koshyari wrote a scathing letter to the chief minister, questioning him regarding the reopening of temples in the state.

Koshyari mentioned that he has received three representations demanding that places of worship be reopened.

"It is ironic that while on one hand, the State government has permitted the opening of bars, restaurants and beaches, on the other hand, our Gods and Goddesses have been condemned to stay in the lockdown," Koshyari wrote in his letter.

He further mocked Uddhav and asked, "I wonder if you are receiving any divine premonition to keep postponing the reopening of the places of worships time and again or have you suddenly turned 'secular' yourself, the term you hated?"

In a response to Koshyari's letter, Uddhav said he does not need a “certificate” on Hindutva from the Governor.

"As imposing lockdown all of a sudden was not right, revoking it completely at once will also be not a good thing. And yes, I am someone who follows Hindutva, my Hindutva doesn't need verification from you," he said.

"My Hindutva does not permit me to welcome home a person who called my Maharashtra or Mumbai Pakistan occupied Kashmir," Uddhav added.

Opposition BJP has been demanding the reopening of temples in the state that have been shut since March as coronavirus lockdown came into force.

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