The Tirupati Balaji temple holds a special place in the hearts of Hindus and the temple stands as a place of undaunting faith. It also happens to be one of the richest temples across the world, thanks to the sheer number of devotees and their offerings the temple witnesses every day. The temple is situated in Andhra Pradesh which is ruled by Chandrababu Naidu, who has left no stone unturned to insult the temple and its devotees. He is also in the process of making sure that he squeezes out every last ounce of money from the temple for his government’s populist schemes as well as for the TDP.
The Tirupati temple is governed by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) trust board, members of which are decided by the Chief Minister, who happens to be N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP in this case. Naidu recently appointed Payakaraopeta MLA V Anitha who belongs to his party, Telugu Desam Party, as one of the members of the prestigious governing body. V Anitha happens to be a self -proclaimed Christian. While she claims to be a Hindu, however, a TV interview she gave in 2004 tells a different tale. Anitha in the interview claimed that despite marrying a Hindu, she is a Christian and said that she always carries the Bible in her bag and car and doesn’t move without the Bible in her hand. After a huge uproar and protests by both devotees and opposition parties, Naidu was forced to rescind her appointment. Anitha in her letter to Naidu requested him to cancel her appointment in face of mounting criticism, but she tried to give this case a casteist angle, and played the minority card, trying to portray herself as an innocent woman who was being harassed as she belonged to the Scheduled Caste.
Ever since Naidu took the reigns of Andhra Pradesh, the TTD is beset with controversies with people from TDP increasingly gaining control of the cash-rich temple. The appointment of TTD chairman itself was delayed and the appointment of Putta Sudhakar Yadav(who also belongs to the TDP) as the chairman raised quite a few eyebrows as he was alleged to be inclined towards the church and often sighted at church gatherings. It seems the TTD is beset with non-Hindu employees as in January one of its employees, Swaranlatha was caught visiting a church and praying in her official TTD car. It is of paramount importance that politics is kept separate from religion. This case must not be looked at from the prism of secularism as every religious place has heads belonging to the particular religion, because heading an important religious entity is a sensitive thing which requires knowledge of intricate details about one’s religion. Naidu, by practicing minority appeasement in such an important place of worship is an example of politics of the worst kind and expectedly drew the ire of Hindus.
Naidu, apart from hurting the sentiments of Hindus, is also on a mission to empty the coffers of the temple. He asked the TTD – Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams – the custodian of Balaji temple at Tirumala, to take the lead in funding several populist programs of the government, like the ‘Neeru-Chettu’ (water-trees) project. The Naidu administration also plans to sell off all the idle properties with temples across the state to fund various development projects. Hence, the temple lands belonging to AP in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu are being sold off. Almost all the ruling parties since 1984 have tried to utilise the vast funds of the temple despite the AP Endowment and Charities Act, and there is an increasing feeling that the temple has been turned into a mini-government, which is often exploited for its vast sums. While using temple funds for development projects might seem to be a noble cause, the lack of accountability in the governing body nonetheless means that the offerings of the temple are going into the wrong hands. In December 2016, the IT department raided J Sekar Reddy and was found holding unaccounted money in the tune of Rs.106.52 crores in cash along with 127 Kg of gold in his premises in Chennai. Reddy was also a member of TTD at the time of the raid. Reddy was personally appointed by Naidu on the request of the then Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa. It is increasingly likely that the TTD is going to be asked to fund all the needs of the Tirupati Municipality and Chittoor district programmes too. Similar attempts were also made by the previous regime of Congress as in the case of Kalyanmastu programme worth almost 30 crores which was beset with allegations of lack of transparency and accountability.
The temple in 2016-17 alone spent Rs. 88 crores on education and Rs. 62 crores on hospitals which is a commendable step. However, forcing the temple to fund the unrealistic and populist poll promises made is draconian. Populist schemes always leave a huge burden on the exchequer, yet land up garnering good PR for the ruling party. In Naidu’s era, it seems the devotees are indirectly offering money to TDP and its MLAs and he has turned TTD into nothing but a fundraiser for his party. Coupled with the fact that he is also practising minority appeasement, Naidu is playing a very dangerous game, unaware that he is carrying a double-edged sword he barely knows how to wield.