'This government has huge respect for the Supreme Court and when there is going to be a hearing on the review petition, it is appropriate to refrain from taking any action till then.'
With each passing day, the atmosphere in Sabarimala gets more and more tense.
With the Kerala police arresting alleged troublemakers in large numbers, Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have started visiting the shrine regularly.
The first central minister to travel to Sabarimala was Alphons Kannanthanam.
"I was hugely disturbed. This is not how Sabarimala should be. It is a place of worship. This is not the way to handle a situation where public sentiment is concerned," the minister tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
Sabarimala has been tense for some time. Why did it take so long for a BJP leader from New Delhi to come here?
On the 11th of September, I was at Pampa to assess the infrastructure available for the pilgrims.
I had warned the state government and the Devaswom Board that the facilities were hugely inadequate and they needed to act fast as there was only a few more days for the temple to open.
When I visited the place again, I found that very little has been done to improve the facilities.
I think the state government doesn't care. The Devaswom Board also doesn't care even though the situation at Nilakal is atrocious and Pampa is totally non-functional.
We had given Rs 100 crores (Rs 1 billion) to develop the Sannidhanam and Pampa which was badly affected after the floods and improve facilities for the devotees, but they have done absolutely nothing.
While they don't care about providing good facilities, they were eager to arrest devotees who were chanting devotional songs.
This is dictatorial and not acceptable in a democracy.
Was your visit only to find out whether the facilities for the devotees were improved?
Yes. I came to see whether they have done anything to improve the facilities as I received several complaints from the pilgrims. So, I wanted to see first-hand.
You were the sub-collector of Pathanamthitta in the early days of your bureaucratic career. What difference did you see at Sabarimala when you visited the place now?
In 1981 when I was the sub-collector of Devikulam in Munnar, I had gone there. I saw only peace there then, but now, it has totally changed.
With this (Kerala's Left Democratic Front) government creating all kinds of impediments for the devotees going there, they are perturbed and scared now.
You don't experience calm today. This is not what Sabarimala is all about.
Earlier, when I spoke to Ayyappa devotees, they used to tell me that they were going back home with a sense of calm and peace with the desire to come back again, and they were coming back again and again.
Today, when I spoke to them, they said they were very unhappy with the way they were treated, and they would not come back again. This is a very sad situation.
As a person from Kerala and as the tourism minister, what were your feelings after you came back from Sabarimala?
I was hugely disturbed. This is not how Sabarimala should be. It's a place of worship.
This is not the way to handle a situation where public sentiment is concerned.
Where will this lead to?
It will lead to a huge problem for the state. Kerala is a major tourism destination in India, and the state also gets huge revenue from tourism.
As the tourism minister, I feel sad because Sabarimala is a major tourism destination in Kerala and the current situation will affect the image of Kerala in a bad way and tourism in a big way.
State BJP leaders are actively participating in protests, but the Centre remains silent on the issue. Why?
There are two issues here. I do not see any reason why Section 144 (of the Code of Criminal Procedure) should be imposed in Sabarimala at all.
Here, devotees come and chant prayers to God. They are not terrorists, they are not extremists, they are not Naxalites; they are just Ayyappa bhaktas.
So, why should 144 be declared? Now, devotees are being arrested on fake charges. What has happened is very unfortunate.
On the question why the Centre is silent, as the matter is sub-judice, it is not appropriate for central ministers to comment on the Supreme Court verdict.
Why don't central ministers speak when the state leaders from the Congress, BJP and CPI-M are either for or against the verdict?
Once the matter is in the Supreme Court and a review petition is going to be heard in January, it is not right to comment on the issue.
By the time the review petition is heard, the temple will be closed. Believers in Kerala are of the opinion that the central government doesn't care about what is happening in Sabarimala or Kerala...
No... no. That's not true at all. It is not appropriate for anybody from the Centre to comment on the issue because the matter is with the Supreme Court. That's the only reason.
The Congress leaders I spoke to said the Centre could come out with an ordinance for Sabarimala as Parliament is not in session...
It is not a great idea to come out with an ordinance against the Supreme Court ruling.
It is easy for those in the Opposition to shout slogans and make such comments, but I don't think it is the right thing to do.
The Congress did it in the Shah Bano case and paid heavily for it.
This government has huge respect for the Supreme Court and when there is going to be a hearing on the review petition, it is appropriate to refrain from taking any action till then.
The Constitution is very clear; law and order is a state subject, and it is for the state government to decide how they want to handle the situation.
If they are going ahead with anti-people decisions like imposing 144 and arresting innocent devotees, our party and the people of Kerala will respond in a way they should.