'At Paravur, rules were disobeyed. That was why such a huge tragedy happened.'
'What we see is the vested interest of political parties. Just to get a few votes, political parties played with fire, they gambled with the safety of the people.'
Kummanam Rajasekharan, who heads the Bharatiya Janata Party's Kerala unit, visited Paravur along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah hours after the Puttingal temple tragedy.
Rajasekharan, below, left, spoke exclusively to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com about the horrific fire and its aftermath.
When I interviewed you earlier, you told me that Kerala's temples should not be under the control of the Devaswom Board and the state government.
The Paravur temple was administered by a trust. Do you still think Kerala's temples should not be under the control of the Devaswom Board?
Are you saying accidents did not happen in the temples controlled by the Devaswom Board? Accidents happen only because the administrators are not ready to strictly enforce rules.
At Paravur also, rules were disobeyed. That was why such a huge tragedy happened.
The casual attitude towards breaking rules by the temple administrators is the reason behind the tragedy. It is not because the temple was under the trust that the tragedy happened; it was because of their attitude to rules.
Some people feel that temples under the Devaswom Board would have been forced to follow rules and regulations while the others may flout them. Do you feel so?
Rules and regulations are for all to follow and obey; they are not for the temples under the control of the Devaswom Board alone. If the argument has any strength, how did tragedies happen in those temples?
So you stick to what you said about the administration of temples even today?
Who administers the temples and how accidents happen have no connection at all. What happened at Paravur was a disregard for laws. They didn't follow safety norms and also disobeyed the order by the district administration that denied permission.
The question is how did the temple get permission to go ahead with the fireworks?
Eyewitnesses say that till 8 pm, it was announced that the collector had denied permission and that they were trying to change it at the higher level through influential people. They say that it was due to political influence that they got permission finally...
Exactly. That's the truth. It was only due to political interference that the fireworks happened.
The problem lies in the interference of politics in places like this. Because of political pressure and interference, administrators find it difficult to enforce rules strictly.
Temples are infested with politics and political activities and that's why rules are not obeyed, and safety not given priority. This should stop. We have to question this attitude.
Local people say that because elections are round the corner, political leaders were pressurised to please the local community that wanted the fireworks to continue...
Yes, what we see is the vested interest of political parties. Just to get a few votes, political parties played with fire, they gambled with the safety of the people.
Did the BJP try to influence the higher ups?
Do you think the BJP has the power to influence the government of Kerala? It was the Congress leaders who did this.
At the temple venue itself, did they not thank the leaders, naming each and every one of them for making the fireworks happen at the last minute? Some of them were hailing the efforts of these leaders in getting permission.
Thrissur Pooram, the biggest temple festival in Kerala, will happen soon. Reports say they are going ahead with fireworks and also parading elephants. Should this be allowed?
We have rules and regulations in this country and the temple must strictly follow them. If the administrators see to it that all safety rules are followed correctly, nobody should be worried. (However after the interview was conducted, the Kerala high court banned hi-decibel firework displays in the state.)
We also have rules to be followed if you have elephants under the custody of the temple.
After the Paravur tragedy, many people feel that fireworks and parading elephants at temples should be totally banned.
We also have boat races during Onam. If a boat were to capsize and God forbid, many people were to lose lives, would we ban boat races completely?
If somebody falls while plucking coconuts, will we ban it?
If people are ready to obey the rules and if the administrators are ready to enforce the rules, we can go ahead with all these events.
You mean, banning fireworks is not the way to react to the tragedy?
Yes. What happened there was that rules were flouted. So we have to see to it that those who flouted the rules are identified and punished.