The Maharashtra government led by Uddhav Thackeray is building quite the reputation for picking up needless battles and picking the wrong hills to die on. A similar needless controversy was created by the Uddhav Thackeray government when they refused to open temples when it was allowed by the union home ministry while gradually easing the coronavirus lockdown restrictions. While the Ministry of Home Affairs permitted the reopening of religious places in India from June 8 onwards, the Maharashtra government decided against implementing this relaxation owing to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
But at last, now the Maharashtra govt has decided to allow worship in temples, with some restrictions. According to reports, the Shiv Sena govt has ordered the reopening of religious places in the state from Monday. The state govt has issued dos and don’ts for the reopening of religious places, which says that only asymptomatic persons will be allowed to enter. Masks will be mandatory for the devotees, and crowding will not be allowed in the places of worship.
Announcing the decision, CM Uddhav Thackeray said that coronavirus cases have come down in the state due to discipline shown by people, although he said that one can’t become complacent. He said that because of the discipline shown by the people in the state, the situation did not go out of control in Maharashtra as compared to other states.
In the Siddhivinayak temple, a maximum of 100 devotees will be allowed every hour, and a total of 1000 of devotees in a day. Devotees will have to install the temple’s app and book their visit in advance.
The decision to reopen the religion comes after several major Hindu festivals for the years have already passed, and they are being reopened a day after the Diwali. Ahead of this, several Hindu organisations had been demanding reopening of temples, and even governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had slammed the state for keeping religions places closed. In October, the governor had written a letter to CM Thackeray, requesting him to reopen religious places with all necessary precautions. However, the CM had refused to do so.
At the same time, several temples and various organisations had launched a state-wide protest against continued shut down of temples in the state. On 13th October, the priests of Siddhi Vinayak temple had started a protest, and a hunger strike. BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal had also launched agitations demanding reopening of temples ahead of Diwali. They had argued that if parks, restaurants, bars can be reopened, there is no reason why religious places can’t be reopened with precautions.
But all this fell on deaf ears of Maharashtra govt, and now they have decided to reopen the religious places just a day after Diwali is over. There has not been a significant change in the Coronavirus situation in the state during the past month. After reaching the peak of over 3 lakh active cases in mid-September, the number of active cases has been declining gradually in the state. It came down to around 1.90 lakh in mid-October, and now it is at around 90 thousand. Which means, the active cases are going down on an almost constant rate.
If the religious places can be reopened now, they could have reopened earlier also, with the same restrictions to avoid crowding. But it was not done, and when all the major Hindu festivals of the year, like the Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri, Durga Puja, Dusshera and Diwali are over, they have allowed the religious places including temples to be reopened.
This looks like a needless battle against Hindus, as if it was a deliberate strategy of the Maharashtra govt to deny the Hindus to visit temples during important religious occasions. It may be noted that all the major Hindu festivals were after the Union govt had allowed reopening of religious places, and other states had allowed the same accordingly. Reopening just two days after Diwali also seems like if the Uddhav Thackeray govt was waiting for Diwali to get over to order the reopening.