Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday defended the ban on public gatherings for Dahi handi (curd pot) related events, saying that the government is not against any religion, but against the coronavirus, NDTV reported.

The Maharashtra government has banned all public gatherings, including the formation of human pyramids, during the Dahi handi event on Tuesday as Covid-19 cases have increased in the state, reported the Hindustan Times. Boys, usually between the ages of five and 18, called “Govindas” form the pyramid to break the curd pot that is suspended by a rope at a height.

However, the Opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the state have opposed the decision and called it “anti-Hindu”.

Thackeray on Tuesday objected to the decision being termed as anti-Hindu. “I want to show them the letter from the Centre, in which they said that during Dahi Handi and Ganesh Utsav we have to impose restrictions... So what are they [if not Hindu-virodhi],” NDTV quoted him as saying.

On August 28, the Union home ministry wrote to states and Union Territories, advising them to take measures to avoid large gatherings during the upcoming festive season and, if required, impose local restrictions.

Dahi handi events are organised as part of the Hindu festival of Janmashthami, which marks the birth of deity Krishna. Massive celebrations, which include mass gatherings, are commonly seen during this day, especially in Maharashtra.

The state home department has ordered all organisers to only hold “symbolic events”, and broadcast them through the local cable television and online platforms to prevent overcrowding.

The Thackeray-led government has prohibited human pyramids as they may lead to the spread of coronavirus. The administration said that residents should instead organise blood donation and health camps, and observe the Dahi handi festival in private.

“The second wave of the pandemic may have receded but the threat remains,” the guidelines said, according to The Times of India. “Health experts have expressed concern about a third wave. In view of this, Dahi handi should be celebrated in a simple manner.”

Meanwhile, Maharashtra has 55,359 active coronavirus cases, and the toll stood at 13,7209. As many as 62,68,112 residents have recovered so far.

The number Covid-19 infections in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region has seen a marginal rise over the last 15 days. The region has been averaging 250 new infections every day since the middle of August. The city’s average has gone up to 350 in the past five days, according to the Hindustan Times.

‘BJP only wants to create chaos’

The chief minister said that those who want to protest should fight against the virus and work towards increasing oxygen generation plants. “But you [the BJP] don’t have the will or intention... you just want to come out on the streets and create chaos,” Thackeray said at the virtual inauguration of an oxygen generation plant in Thane district.

Thackeray also responded to campaigns by the BJP and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to reopen temples and allow Dahi handi events.

“This is not the freedom struggle... people are trying to be heroes after organising a few Dahi Handis,” he said. “If you want to fight, fight against Covid.”

As many as 18 Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers were arrested in Thane on Monday for violating the government’s orders. The party’s members had set up structures to celebrate the Dahi handi event, but the police dismantled the arrangements.

A case was registered after the police arrested the workers, who began a demonstration against the action, according to The Times of India.

“Come what may, we will go ahead with Dahi handi as planned, the government should not use the shield of the police,” said MNS’ office-bearer Avinash Jadhav. “Without the stage also, we will go ahead with the festival.”

The Mumbai Police sent a notice to BJP leader Ram Kadam who had tweeted about bringing a Dahi handi to their Ghatkopar unit.

On Monday, BJP MLA Ashish Shelar said: “Is this government taking orders from Taliban? Why are all restrictions being enforced on Hindu festivals in Maharashtra?”

He added that the Shiv Sena-led state government was compromising on its “Hindutva” principles, reported The Indian Express. He pointed out that this was the same party that had protested against the Bombay High Court’s orders to limit the height of human pyramids during the Dahi handi event.