Politics of appeasement took centre stage yet again when, earlier this week, Chief Minister of India’s youngest state Telangana, donated Rs 5.5 crore worth of state-owned jewellery to the famous Tirupati Temple in Tirumala.
The move was apparently a fulfilment of his promise made during the agitation for an independent Telangana, wherein he publicly took a vow to donate jewellery to the Tirupati temple along with several other temples, once the state won recognition. He has now fulfilled one of his promises.
His other vows include donating nose studs to Goddesses Padmavathi and Kanaka Durga, in Tiruchanur and Vijayawada; golden crown to Goddess Bhadrakali in Warangal, and a golden moustache to Lord Veerabhadra Swamy, also in Warangal. His donation to Tirupati temple included a 14.9 kg lotus-inspired golden necklace and a 4.65 kg five-row carcanet.
Making public promises during political campaigns and rallies is not new in India and these are rolled out by the dozens, especially during poll campaigning. K Chandrasekhar Rao, or KCR, as the current CM is popularly referred to, made these promises while he was leading the agitation for an independent Telangana, but never clarified whether these were to come from his personal collection or the state’s.
So Was He Justified in Making Such a Promise?
A donation of this nature is, by default, assumed to be a personal one, as he had no authority or mandate to make such a commitment on behalf of a state that did not exist during the time. Also, there was no assurance that he would become the first Chief Minister.
So, on what basis did he make such a promise? After all, the Rs 5.5 crore worth of jewellery belongs to the state exchequer, and by extension, to the people, who collectively own it.
Three Questions That Get Raised
The donation has apparently been drawn out of the Common Good Fund (CGF) for the Endowments Department, which is responsible for supporting renovation and upkeep of dilapidated temples in the state.
Firstly, how does Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Trust qualify for a donation from the CGF, when it happens to be one of the richest temple trusts in the world?
With Rs 2,858 crore budget for 2017-18 and over Rs 807 crore in expected interest earnings (and this excludes other incomes), how can the state government justify drawing funds from CGF, when there are several other temples that need these funds desperately and for the purpose CGF has been set up for.
Secondly, India is a secular country, therefore both centre and respective state governments have a responsibility to maintain a secular and neutral position on socio-religious matters. The argument that this is a case of popular sentiment does not hold water, since the vow was a personal one and not on behalf of the state’s peoples.
So, how can any state government extend this value of donation to one religious place and not offer the same to all other religious places of other religions, located across the state?
Thirdly, as Chief Minister of all people of Telangana, was KCR morally and ethically correct in using taxpayer’s money to fulfil his personal promise and that too, in support of one religion? And, does this move not reek of personal gain through political appeasement, at the cost of taxpayer’s hard-earned money?
What if all other religions began demanding similar value of donation, since by law, all qualify for equal treatment from the state government? This move by KCR is a dangerous one and can potentially trigger a reaction from other religious groups and minorities.
To the maximum extent possible, governments must stay away from exercises such as this and leave such initiatives to respective communities and religious groups on how they would like to manage and maintain their places of worship.