Maharashtra govt. will open temples soon: VBA chief

Taking a firm stand: Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi chief Prakash Ambedkar (fourth from left) and his supporters enter the Vitthal-Rukmini temple complex in Pandharpur on Monday.  

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar on Monday declared that his agitation for the reopening of temples across Maharashtra was “successful” as the State government has promised him that places of worship will be opened in the next eight to 10 days.

Mr. Ambedkar, however, warned that the VBA would launch an agitation again after 10 days if the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government fails to keep its word. He said, “Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has made the right decision. I thank him for acknowledging the sentiment of the people and promising to reopen temples soon. The government has said it needs eight to 10 days to prepare the standard operating procedures [SOPs] for opening the temples. However, if the State government fails to prepare its SOPs within this time, then we shall be compelled to agitate once more in Pandharpur.”

Mr. Ambedkar, who is the grandson of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, said the government permitted him and 14 of his supporters to enter the Vitthal-Rukmini temple for darshan after they arrived at the temple town of Pandharpur in Solapur district.

Defying regulations

Despite the district administration suspending State Transport bus services and deploying a formidable security shield to discourage assembly near the temple premises, VBA activists, warkaris (devotees) and volunteers from several parts of the State streamed into Solapur since Monday morning. The police had a hard time ensuring physical distancing as agitators threatened to break through the barricades erected outside the main temple complex.

With Solapur being one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the Pune division, Mr. Ambedkar was asked why the VBA activists were not adhering to the regulations. He said, “We have come here to break rules… The State government should change its stance [on keeping temples closed] by seeing these impassioned scenes. I acknowledge that physical distancing is not being followed in some cases, but these are feelings of the people.”

Stressing that his agitation had been peaceful, Mr. Ambedkar said he also wanted to prove that even if people gathered in large numbers, there would not be any great spread of the virus. He said compared with COVID-19 more people have died of other causes in the past.

The VBA chief said, “Official figures say that more than 80% of the people who had tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered. So, then what is the reason to fear this virus and keep temples shut, which has had an adverse effect on thousands whose existence revolves around the temple economy. We should be thankful to authorities that despite no vaccine having yet come out in the market, they have managed to keep the novel coronavirus at bay and so many have recovered.”

The VBA is supporting the demand of the Vishwa Warkari Sena, an outfit of devotees of lord Vitthal, which had given a memorandum to the Solapur district administration seeking all temples be reopened in Maharashtra. The VBA earlier said keeping temples shut at a time when several establishments have been allowed to resume operations was affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people dependent on the temple economy.

A day ahead of the VBA’s ‘Chalo Pandharpur’ rally, the Bharatiya Janata Party also had staged a protest against the State government, demanding all major temples in the State be reopened.

‘Right to profess faith’

Asked whether he was following the Hindutva line with his agitation, Mr. Ambedkar said, “We regard Mahatma Phule, Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar as our gurus and follow their ideas. They have never been against religion. Everyone has a right to profess their faith… thousands of devotees could not offer worship at the Pandharpur temple because of the State government’s restrictions at a time when everything else has been opened up. Hence, we held this agitation to force the government to reconsider its decision.”

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 7:58:57 PM |

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