The Kerala unit of the BJP called for a dawn-to-dusk strike in the state on Friday after a man, who attempted self-immolation near the party’s Sabarimala protest venue in Thiruvananthapuram, died at the Medical College Hospital.
All examinations from classes 1 to 10 in schools have been deferred to December 21 and examinations conducted by Kerala University and Kerala Technological University postponed too in view of the hartal.
In the early hours of Thursday, the victim, 49-year-old Venugopalan Nair, poured petrol on his body, set himself ablaze and advanced towards a tent in which BJP leaders and workers were protesting the police restrictions imposed by the ruling LDF government on the premises of the Sabarimala temple. The workers, along with locals, quickly doused Nair with water and admitted him to the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram with 90% burns. Nair, who was critical, passed away at 3:30 pm on Thursday.
BJP leaders and workers claimed that Nair shouted ‘Ayyappa, Ayyappa’ as he rushed towards the party’s protest venue. The police, however, have termed the incident as suicide and ruled out having any relation to the protest.
Ayyappa is the principal deity at the Sabarimala temple, which has been at the centre of a raging controversy after a Supreme Court order in September allowed entry of women of all ages at the temple. Previously, women of menstruating age between 10 and 50 were barred from temple premises on account of the deity’s ‘celibate’ nature.
MT Ramesh, the BJP’s state general secretary, said in a Facebook Live video, “There are protests and prayer meetings across the state. But the Kerala government is pretending not to see this. They are trying to ignore the protests with utter contempt. With no alternative left, an Ayyappa devotee sacrificed his life. Kerala will react to this. He had sacrificed his life to force open the eyes and ears of the Marxist government.”
“That’s why a 12-hour hartal from 6 am to 6 pm is being called tomorrow. All essential services will be kept out of the hartal. We don’t want to create inconvenience to anyone. The BJP does not intend to force anyone to participate in the hartal. But we believe that the devotee community in Kerala will take ownership of the hartal,” he added.
This is the fourth bandh to be invoked by the BJP in the state since the Sabarimala temple opened for the annual ‘Mandalam-Makaravilakku’ pilgrimage in November. CK Padmanabhan, one of the senior BJP leaders in the state, has been undergoing a hunger strike in front of the secretariat.
On November 2, the party observed a 12-hour bandh in Pathanamthitta district after an alleged Ayyappa pilgrim was found dead in Nilakkal, one of the base camps of the pilgrimage. On November 17, a state-wide bandh was called by the saffron party to protest the arrest and detention of KP Sasikala, a firebrand leader of the Hindu Aikya Vedi, a fringe Hindu outfit. On November 11, Thiruvananthapuram district underwent a 12-hour hartal following violent Yuva Morcha clashes with the police over the temple agitation.