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Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 26, 2005

In the cyclical battles between the Devas and the Asuras, there are moments when the latter, ensconced in an overweening arrogance, appear all-powerful and invincible. The wise know their fall will be sudden, dramatic, and complete. And so it shall be with the so-called Revolutionary Leader of Tamil Nadu, who has violated immutable rules of dharma by subordinating the sacred to State power.

In a technical sense, when Ms. Jayalalithaa ordered the arrest of the Kanchi Shankaracharya last November on alleged charges of conspiracy to murder a former Matham employee, she was within the bounds of her duties as Chief Minister. Murder calls for State cognizance and action, and the authorities were bound to investigate the crime and take appropriate action. That many believe there is no credible evidence to link either the Shankaracharya or Bal Shankaracharya with the crime, and that the inquiry is motivated by a larger political conspiracy, is another matter.

But the Chief Minister grossly exceeded her limits when she (no one else would dare) directed the office of the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments to ensure that Swami Jayendra Sarawati was denied access to the 'garba griha' of the Ramanathaswamy Mandir in Rameswaram, to perform puja, which is his customary and religious right according to mandir rules. The magnitude of his insult can be gauged from the fact that this right is believed to have been conferred by the Deity Himself, and has been bestowed upon just three dignitaries, viz., the Shankaracharyas of Sringeri and Kanchi and the King of Nepal.

Ramanathaswamy Mandir is no ordinary site; it commemorates the spot where Shri Rama worshipped Bhagvan Shiva before crossing the sea to defeat Ravana, and is a site of tremendous spiritual power. It is hardly surprising that this was the first major temple the Shankaracharya chose to visit after being implicated in a host of cases by the former actress. Not even the Indian Prime Minister or President, and certainly not the imperious lady, has the right to enter its sanctum sanctorum and worship the Deity directly.

Hence it was not a small shock for the Acharya and his devotees to be told by unhappy temple authorities that they had instructions from the Government (read Ms. Jayalalithaa) not to permit him to enter the garba griha of any temple under its control. His Holiness adjusted to this horrible disrespect with grace and equanimity, asking the priests to perform puja on his behalf and worshipping the Deity from the spot where pilgrims are allowed special darshan. Mercifully, he was not asked to pay for the 'special darshan.'

The official on the scene of this outrage, the Joint Commissioner, Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments, explained that he had instructions from the Commissioner not to allow anyone to enter the inner sanctum. Since the only visitor who had this right was the Kanchi Shankaracharya, it does not take much imagination to realize that His Holiness was being singled out for humiliation at the hands of the State.

That this was purely intentional became clear the next day when the State authorities repeated the misdemeanour. Apparently the temple priests were extremely distressed at being made to deny the Shankaracharya access to the sanctum sanctorum; they apologized and asked him to return for puja the next morning. Accordingly, Swami Jayendra Saraswati took the holy bath in the Agnitheertham, but was made to wait for three hours before being told that permission was again denied. The Acharya was also denied entry into the garba griha of the Dhanuskodi Kothanda Ramar temple, though the temple manuals explicitly state that the Kanchi Sankaracharyas have the right to perform pujas in the sanctum sanctorum. Indeed, they have been doing so for centuries.

Hindus believe anyone can choose the path away from dharma. The Tamil Chief Minister has lost her moral equipoise since her party's rout in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. She prostrated before the State's Hindu-baiting media; withdrew the anti-conversion law and is complicit in the cancerous growth of the conversion industry; and indulged in a vicious assault upon one of the tallest Hindu spiritual leaders.

It is a measure of Hindu disarmament at the hands of the BJP's determinedly secular leadership that no credible opposition could be launched against the outright assault upon Hindu institutions. There is a great urgency for the Hindu community to regain control of temples from the State, which has no respect for the sanctity of either the temples or the Gurus. A credible legal case can be made about religious discrimination against the Hindu community, because rich Hindu temples are alone seized by Government and their resources diverted to ends for which there is no public mandate.

In Karnataka, the annual revenue of over Rs. 72 crores from Hindu temples is misused to support faiths that condemn Hindu dharma as "false" and indulge in conversions; Rs. 50 crores goes as Hajj subsidy and Rs. 10 crores as church maintenance. Hindu temples can barely cover the salary of priests, and have nothing left for maintenance. Yet Chief Minister Dharam Singh shamelessly hosted the super-evangelist Benny Hinn, who is currently under the scrutiny of the US Internal Revenue Service!

The situation is hardly better in other states. In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Samuel Reddy used his position to bring Christian institutions into the decision making loop of the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam and its institutions, and may even be facilitating a church on the holy hills. In Kerala, the State Government wanted to loot Guruvayur Devaswom funds for a water supply and drainage scheme for the town; only stiff Hindu opposition finally shelved the scheme.

What is being undermined here is not the Hindu right over utilization of temple funds, however substantial, but the foundational tenet of Hindu dharma that man owes a debt to the gods (daiva rna), to the teachers (gurus rna) and to the ancestors (pitr rna). Today, only the last is still being paid because it lies within the realm of the individual households.

Daiva rna has been usurped by the government which not only takes away current temple revenues, but even the lands that devotees have bequeathed over centuries for the upkeep of temples. The Andhra Government recently sold 250 acres of endowment land for a pittance, when the market price was at least one crore per acre. There is a sustained disrespect of Hindu dharma by the so-called secular state. What right does the government have to appoint members to the Boards of major temples (usually members of the party in power, and even IAS officers)?

State interference in Hindu institutions violates Art. 26, which guarantees every denomination the freedom to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and to administer such property in accordance with law. Given the awesome State mismanagement, the Supreme Court would do well to revisit the Guruvayur Temple verdict, wherein it held that State could appoint managers as temple administration is a secular task, as opposed to spiritual management. Since Art 26 explicitly bestows freedom to "administer such property in accordance with law," there is no justification for the State appropriating temple property and revenues on the pretext of supervising them.

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