Last weekend (29 November), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government led by K Chandrashekar Rao sanctioned Rs 1 lakh each for major churches in the state for Christmas.
It also announced providing 500 gift packs of clothes to each church at the same time.
Members of the legislative assembly representing the 199 constituencies in the state will each select two churches that will get Rs 1 lakh, while every corporator will pick a church in his/her division.
Rao will also host a Christmas feast before 19 December and the state government has decided to invite 400 Christians each from the 119 constituencies.
Last year, the Telangana government sanctioned Rs 22 crore to distribute gift packets containing garments to poor Christians. At least Rs 18 crore was spent on buying garments.
The Rao government also held a Christmas feast in which at least two lakh people had dinner. The state government had allocated Rs 4 crore for the feast then.
The TRS-led Telangana government had begun distributing Christmas gifts from 2015 onwards, terming it a “humanitarian gesture”.
Then, Rao had directed his officials to make arrangements to celebrate Christmas as an official festival on the lines of Bathukamma, Bonalu and Eid-al-Fitr.
Bathukamma is celebrated in September-October during Dasara (Dussehra) period. This is a festival of feminine felicitation when women wear traditional saris with jewels.
Bonalu is a festival during which Goddess Mahakali is worshipped and celebrated in July/August every year. It was declared a state festival by the Telangana government in 2014.
This year, the Rao government sanctioned Rs 15 crore for Bonalu and spent Rs 313 crore to distribute saris to over one crore women for Bathukamma.
The Rao government came up with a different approach this year to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr (following Ramzan) and that is the reason why it has decided to sanction Rs 1 lakh each to 200 churches.
Apart from sanctioning finance for gift packs containing garments for Eid-al-Fitr, the government also allocated Rs 1 lakh each to 832 mosques across the state to host iftars. The TRS government sanctioned Rs 33 crore for the gift packs.
The governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh seemed to be in competition in extending favours to Christians and Muslims.
Last month, the Andhra Pradesh government increased the financial aid to those going on pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem. In September, the Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government also announced a stipend of Rs 5,000 to pastors in churches.
On social media, Rao’s move to sanction Rs 1 lakh to the churches was criticised as a “terrible idea” with some questioning the media’s silence over it.
The critics pointed out how the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh was criticised by the media for allocating Rs 1.32 crore for Diwali event in Ayodhya but has chosen to keep quiet over this development now.
TRS supporters justify the allocations pointing to the various expenditures the state government and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh government incur on conducting Hindu festivals or events such as Godavari Pushkaralu.
Detractors, however, say the expenditure on temples is justified as their revenue is taken by the governments to fund various state programmes.