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Sabrimala Row: BJP hartal affects normal life in Kerala

Sabrimala Row: BJP hartal affects normal life in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram: The dawn-to-dusk hartal called by the Kerala unit of the BJP affected normal life in the state Friday with most state-run and private buses keeping off the roads and shops and hotels remaining closed.

The BJP had announced a state-wide hartal as a mark of respect to 55-year old Venugopalan Nair, who died after setting himself afire near the venue of the party's protest here Thursday.

The saffron party claimed Nair took the extreme step due to the "adamant" stand of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government on the Sabarimala issue.

However, police said that Nair, in his dying declaration given to the Magistrate, said he resorted to the act due to depression and ran towards the protest venue after setting himself afire. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) has been plying services to Pamba to ease difficulties of Sabarimala pilgrims.

However, three KSRTC buses were damaged in Palakkad district during stone-pelting by hartal supporters.

In the capital city here, police arranged transport facilities for patients going to Medical College and the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC).

"The police bus has already completed six trips till noon with more than 100 people each to the medical college and RCC route. We have also arranged a vehicle to the airport," a police official told PTI.

Various traders' organisations have come out in open against the flash hartal called by the BJP as this was the second state-wide strike in less than three weeks.

Shopkeepers in the famous Sweetmeat Street, a heritage street, in Kozhikode responded to the hartal by opening shops.

The business capital of Kerala, Kochi, has seen a partial response to the hartal with some of the shops remaining open and vehicles plying.

Certain voluntary organisations and individuals at Thiruvananthapuram Central Railway station were seen helping out the public who got stranded at the state capital.

Kalesh, a courier company employee, who was seen with his bike at the railway station here, said he had already travelled over 50 km dropping various passengers at different places in the city.

"About seven years ago I was stranded here even as my house is just seven kms away. From then I have been out on hartal days to help those who get stranded," he added.

Humanity-First, a voluntary organisation, has also been out on the streets plying two cars and few motorcycles to help the public.

The BJP district unit has also arranged vans for the students who have reached the state capital to give the NEET exam. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan slammed the BJP and said the party has itself become a "laughing stock" in the state.

"The BJP has become a laughing stock by calling this hartal. The deceased had given a dying declaration to the magistrate which was against the claims made by the state BJP," Vijayan told media in New Delhi.

BJP state chief P S Sreedharan Pillai Friday demanded a judicial probe into the incident of self-immolation near the party protest venue, while the state Congress chief Mullapally Ramachandran, wanted the BJP to explain why they had called a hartal.

"The saffron party was exploiting the suicide of a man for political gains. This shows the political bankruptcy of the party," he said. Venugopalan Nair, a resident of Muttada near here, had suffered 90 per cent burns and succumbed at the Government Medical College Hospital, after he set himself afire. Nair tried to run towards the makeshift tent where BJP leader C K Padmanabhan is on an indefinite fast demanding lifting of prohibitory orders in and around Sabarimala hill shrine, police said.

Party activists and police personnel doused the fire using drinking water and rushed him to the hospital where he died without responding to treatment.

The BJP has been protesting against the state government over its decision to implement the Supreme Court order allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa Temple and also demanding lifting of ban orders and restrictions.

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