'It is true that we changed our opinion.'
'I feel the BJP or any other political party is guilty of not understanding the real mood of the people.'
After Alphons Kannanthanam, the Union minister of state for tourism, it was V Muraleedharan, the Rajya Sabha member and former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Kerala state unit, who visited Sabarimala along with Nalin Kumar Kateel, followed by Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan.
From Sabarimala, Muraleedharan came to Thiruvananthapuram where he has an MP's office where he spoke to Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
"The uniqueness of the temple is that the rituals for the particular deity and the devotees who have to go there were decided by God, and not by anybody else," says Muraleedharan, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra.
Did you have any interaction with the BJP's central leaders before deciding to go to Sabarimala? Or was it a personal visit?
Nalin Kateel and I know each other for a long time. He is also co-in charge of Kerala. This is not the first time that we were going to Sabarimala together.
In 2013, when I was the state BJP president, the party under the leadership of Prakash Javdekar, had deputed a four-member team to visit Sabarimala. That included Javdekar himself, Pon Radhakrishnanji, Nalin Kateel and myself. So, the BJP has been interested in the welfare of Sabarimala.
This time also, we decided to go together to see how the facilities were at Sabarimala. We were hearing that the facilities for the devotees were very poor.
No, it was not directed by the central leadership.
You said you went there to only see the facilities available at Sabarimala. Alphons Kannanthanam also said the same thing. Does that mean the BJP is not affected by the events in Sabarimala?
The second reason why we went there was because we heard about the hardships faced by the pilgrims.
Section 144 was imposed at Sabarimala which was against the way this temple functioned.
This is not one temple where devotees go alone or with family; Ayyappas go in big groups.
You cannot declare 144 in a religious place like Sabarimala and say that more than four people should not go together.
Do you feel that from the time the Supreme Court gave the verdict till now, those who are in charge do not understand the traditions and rituals of Sabarimala?
I am convinced about that.
There are five aspects to Sabarimala: God, the form of the particular deity, rituals associated with the pratishta (installation), those who manage the affairs of the temple and finally the devotees.
The uniqueness of the temple is that the rituals for the particular deity and the devotees who have to go there were decided by God, and not by anybody else.
The deity is said to be an eternal celibate and the devotees are also expected to be celibate for 41 days.
Ayurveda experts say that according to Ashtanga Hridaya, the prakruti (nature) of a person changes in 41 days.
You have to understand that nobody is talking about menstruation as impure here. Somehow, some people are creating the impression that it is because menstruation is impure that women between 10 and 50 are not allowed. It is not true.
Those who make a noise against Sabarimala should understand that this is a particular tradition confined to this one Ayyappa temple alone. There are hundreds and hundreds of Ayyappa temples in Kerala.
It is only because of the pratishta that this kind of a restriction is there at Sabarimala.
When the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala came, the BJP and the Congress supported it, but when devotees started coming out onto the streets, your opinion changed. Why?
It is true that we changed our opinion. That is why I feel the BJP or any other political party is guilty of not understanding the real mood of the people.
But it is not just public sentiment alone that changed our stand. Yes, public sentiment was an eye-opener. It prompted us to look into the real reasons behind the tradition of Sabarimala. That was when we understood why the temple was unique.
When you are not aware of the details of certain things, you should try to learn it.
But the state government and those who are in favour of the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 are still not ready to learn.
In a way, we also committed a mistake by supporting the verdict initially without understanding the actual facts.
Is the BJP now taking advantage of the situation for political gain?
Political parties associate themselves with the views of the people to increase their influence.
Every political party looks at situations as a good opportunity. There is nothing wrong in it. It means we should be in touch with people and support them.
It is not that the BJP started the issue or the movement. Because the BJP identifies with the views and sentiments of the people, we are with the people.
By being with the people, the BJP and its leaders can gain the confidence of the people.
If you say the BJP is taking advantage of the situation, I will say that poverty has been exploited by the CPM, too.
The Kerala government says the BJP and RSS are creating disturbances at Sabarimala...
The Hindu community of Kerala feels that the BJP and RSS alone can save the situation.
They feel the BJP is the only party that understood the uniqueness of the Sabarimala temple and has taken a stand accordingly.
At the same time, people feel the BJP central leadership has not done anything on this issue. There is total silence on their part.
There is no total silence. After the verdict, (BJP national president) Amit (Anilchandra) Shah came to Kannur and spoke on the Sabarimala issue. He asked the state government why they were aggressively pursuing the Supreme Court verdict when there were many court orders that were still not implemented.
He clearly expressed the stand of the BJP central leadership.
Yes, Subramanian Swamy first issued a statement supporting the verdict, but later, he said he did not know the real facts behind the temple.
It is true that some people feel the central government should intervene. That's what the Congress is demanding; they want the government to bring in an ordinance.
I want to ask them: Were they not screaming that the central government's intervention is against federal principles? How can the federal principles be given a go by in this case?
If this doesn't affect federal principles, let the state government and Opposition ask the central government to make a law.
Will the Congress be ready to support this law in Parliament?
This is not the view of the Congress's central leadership; this is the view of the Congress party in Kerala.
They want the BJP to bring in an ordinance. When we come out with an ordinance, they will hold a dharna in front of Raj Bhavan saying federal principles are being sacrificed.
Pilgrimage within the country is a state subject. Even if we were to use the Concurrent List, it has to be with the concurrence of the state. But is there a concurrence? No.
In the case of jallikkattu in Tamil Nadu, all the parties were united. There was concurrence on the issue, but here, there is no unanimity.
The central government doesn't want to intervene because it is not within their rights, it is also against federal principles.
The real reason why the state government wants to stop pilgrims from coming to Sabarimala is because they want to cover up their inefficiency in rebuilding Pampa after the floods.
Many people in Kerala say the BJP only talks about the Ram temple, totally ignoring Sabarimala where millions of devotees go during the Makara Vilakku season.
This is not the first time the BJP is taking an interest in Sabarimala. Delegations from the Centre have been coming to Sabarimala from 2013, but nobody knew about it as we were in the Opposition.
So, it is not right to say that the BJP has ignored other temples.
We are supporting all those who are agitating in Sabarimala. Yes, we are not leading the agitation.
Who is leading the agitation then?
It is not led by any single individual or a political party.
Till now, we have only seen movements started by political parties in Kerala, but this time, Ayyappa devotees are leading the agitation.
Kerala has not seen a people's movement like this in recent times. It is like the jallikkattu movement in Tamil Nadu or the Cauvery agitation in Karnataka or the many farmers movements in other parts of India.
The biggest takeaway from the Sabarimala agitation, I feel, is that this will make all governments realise that Hindu sentiments cannot and should not be ignored.