MUMBAI: Workers and leaders of the opposition BJP on Monday staged protests in several cities in Maharashtra against the MVA government's stand to not reopen temples as of now, which remain shut due to COVID-19 restrictions.
At many places, social distancing norms were not adhered to while staging demonstrations. The protests, organised by the Aadhyatmik Aghadi (spiritual wing) of the BJP, were held in Pune, Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Nashik, Nagpur, Pandharpur, Aurangabad and other places where agitators rang bells and blew conches.
In Mumbai, former minister and senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar led a demonstration at the famous Babulnath temple. However, police stopped the protestors from going near the temple. Mungantiwar told reporters that temples were open in the rest of the country but Maharashtra.
Queried about the Central guidelines asking states to ensure that public gatherings are avoided in view of the upcoming festivals, Mungantiwar shot back asking, "Did the Centre ask to allow liquor shops to function and close temples? Did the state government take action against Shiv Sainiks who had protested against Union minister Narayan Rane? Local trains are open for fully vaccinated people. Why the same criterion cannot be applied and temples reopened?"
Protests were also held in Thane and Palghar districts neighbouring Mumbai wherein BJP workers blew conches and rang bells. Holding placards and banners demanding reopening of temples, they shouted slogans against the state government at various places.
Meanwhile, activists of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) staged a protest in Thane city against the state government's decision to not allow Dahi Handi celebrations on Tuesday. Maharashtra Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant, however, lashed out at the BJP saying the saffron party is "playing with the lives of devotees and don't care for the Central government's directives".
"People should be cautious and stay away from leaders and workers of the BJP as they may be carriers of coronavirus. Chandrakant Patil and others didn't wear face masks," he claimed. In Pune and Aurangabad, BJP workers tried to force their way into closed temples but were stopped by the police.
Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil, who led the protest in Pune city outside the famous Kasba Ganpati temple, questioned the state government's rationale behind allowing liquor and other shops to function but not extending the similar relaxation to temples and other places of worship.
"Is fear of a projected third wave of the pandemic doesn't apply for liquor outlets and other shops? Does coronavirus talk to them (the government) and says it will strike only if temples are reopened ?" Patil asked.
He alleged Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was not allowing temples to reopen to "please his allies who do not believe in God and want to receive votes from minorities". "If temples are not reopened people will not be able to control their sentiments anymore and will break open locks of temples to take blessings of deities. We are not agitating only for Hindus, our agitation is for people of all faiths," Patil said.
Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol wondered why temples are not allowed to reopen when hotels, public transport, malls etc are allowed to operate by the government. "Livelihood of thousands depend on temples but the state government, which has failed to handle the COVID-19 situation, is playing with the religious sentiments of the people and that is why BJP is agitating in the state to demand reopening of temples," he said.
In the temple town Pandharpur in the Solapur district, BJP workers staged a protest, following which they were detained, said Addl SP (Solapur rural) Atul Zende. In Nagpur in east Maharashtra, BJP workers blew conches at various temples as part of the "Shankhnaad" protest and appealed to the state government to reopen temples in the next seven days failing which they will reopen temples.
BJP leader and former Maharashtra minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule participated in a protest held at the famous Koradi temple in Nagpur. "Reopening of temples is a demand of 12 crore people of Maharashtra. Social activist Anna Hazare has also said that he will join a protest for this cause. Temples across India are open except in Maharashtra. If the state government fails to reopen temples within the next seven days, BJP would reopen them," he said.
BJP spokesperson Chandan Goswami said the "Shankhnaad" protest was held at more than 150 temples in the Vidarbha region. In Aurangabad city in the Marathwada region, BJP workers said they will reopen temples during the Ganesh festival next month.
Taking a dig at the Shiv Sena, BJP MLA Atul Save questioned its "Hindutva", saying temples are open in other states except in Maharashtra where Sena is in power. "...And they call themselves 'Hindutvawadi' (pro-Hindu)," he wondered.
"The government doesn't consider feelings of Hindu devotees. Liquor shops, bars are open. The Shravan month is considered sacred for Hindus but temples remained shut. If the government fails to reopen temples, BJP workers will enter temples with devotees to take darshan of deities," Save told reporters.
Aurangabad district president Sanjay Kenekar termed the MVA as a Talibani government. "The state government speaks of secularism on one hand and the other hand, Namaz is allowed. But Hindus are not allowed to take darshan in temples. This is a Taliban government," he alleged.