Bengaluru: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, when in opposition, called him a “street thug". Veteran communist leader VS Achuthanandan likened him to a “mad dog". Earlier this year, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader wanted him to be packed off to Kashmir. Meet Yatish Chandra, the “Dabangg" style IPS officer in Kerala who is at the centre of a controversy for being out of line with Union minister of state for finance, Pon Radhakrishnan, over the Sabarimala row.
Chandra, chief of police of Thrissur district, is in charge of Sabarimala’s Nilakkal region, which has become the base camp for the hill shrine. The temple has seen protests against admitting menstrual age women despite a Supreme Court ruling annulling such a ban. Its two reopenings over the last month were marked with spectacular protests, with hundreds of men, with the blessings of the BJP, preventing women seeking entry into the shrine and the police looking on helplessly.
The minister on Wednesday wanted to enter the temple with a coterie of BJP activists but was stopped by the officer. A video of the confrontation, which has gone viral on social media, shows Radhakrishnan asking the Chandra why private vehicles are not allowed.
“I’ll explain it to you, basically due to recent floods…" Chandra begins, but is cut short by the minister, “I know that." The 33-year-old electrical engineer turned civil servant from Karnataka is, however, in no mood to stop. “Can you please listen to me?"
He then goes on to explain how, after the recent floods, the parking grounds near the temple have been washed away and there is the risk of landslides.
When Radhakrishnan repeats his demand, the officer replies: “Okay, I agree. If I allow everyone, the traffic will choke up till the entrance. You will be held responsible. Are you willing to take responsibility?"
“I don’t want to take responsibility," replies the minister.
Chandra smiles: “That is the thing here, no one wants to take responsibility."
By this time, the local BJP leader loses his cool.
The episode follows Chandra’s arrest of BJP general secretary K Surendran and pro-Sangh Parivar Hindu Aikya Vedi president K P Sasikala while they were trying to enter the temple. Both leaders are fiery speakers and have fanned right wing protests across Kerala.
Surendran has been kept out of Sabarimala for two months as part of bail conditions. Sasikala returned to the temple, but as a devotee to attend a family function, and had to sign a declaration of good behaviour before beginning the trek.
“We are only doing our duty, without favouring or hurting any political party. Our aim is to make Sabarimala a peaceful space, a safe place for all devotees. We do not have any agenda," said Chandra over the phone.
Within police circles, however, Chandra has an image problem. “He is someone who wants to be seen close to the powers that be. So he is trying to impress the chief minister now, I would not be surprised," said one of the most senior police officers in the state who did not wish to be named.
When asked, Chandra scoffed at the criticism. “Basically, I am here to execute the orders of the democratically elected government," he said.