Temples are turning out to be a burning issue in Andhra Pradesh with the Hindu worship places under attack in the recent few months.
According to former Union Minister P Ashok Gajapathy Raju, who was removed as Chairman of three temple trusts in Vizianagaram and East Godavari districts, 128 temples have been attacked in the State in the last 19 months.
The 19 months synchronise with the YSR Congress Party (YSCRP), led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, taking over the reins of administration in May 2019.
The desecration of the murti (idol) of Shri Ram at the Sita Lakshmana Kothandarama Temple in Ramatheertham, which saw the temple priest being reduced to tears, on 28 December has brought the focus back on these attacks.
The temple is over 1,500 years old and unnerved, the YSRCRP government acted immediately by removing Raju as the Chairman of the temple trust, holding him responsible for the lax in security.
In fact, the attack on or demolition of temples is not something new to Andhra Pradesh, where it has become an issue seeing a tussle between the YSRCP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which ruled during 2014-19.
Under pressure for these attacks on the temples, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister has termed it as a “political guerilla warfare” aimed at defaming his government.
His argument that these attacks take place just ahead of his government launching various welfare schemes — probably indicates that the TDP might be involved in it.
To score more brownie points against the TDP, Reddy laid the foundation stone for the reconstruction of 30 temples on 8 January in Vijayawada.
All these temples were demolished in 2016 when the TDP government wanted to hold the Krishna Pushkaram, worship of river Krishna, successfully without any problem.
The demolitions were carried out to widen the roads with the N Chandrababu Naidu government trying to prove it had become wise after 29 pilgrims died during the 2015 Godavari Pushkaram stampede.
On its part, the BJP has been holding various protests across the State but political observers hold it partly responsible for the current situation.
“The BJP silently supported the YSCRP in its bid for power after it fell out with the TDP. Today, it is having to the face the consequences of that,” said an observer, not wishing to be identified.
The BJP, probably, is caught between the devil and the deep sea, in the sense that the TDP was seen as a party that was sympathetic to the cause of Muslims, while the YSRCP is seen as a totally Christian supporting one.
The BJP’s problems, however, do not absolve either the TDP or the YSCRP's actions that have hurt the Hindus, particularly with regard to demolition and desecration of temples.
A political observer, sympathetic towards the BJP, says that Hindus are partly to blame for the damages to their worship places.
“When temples were demolished during Naidu’s regime, Hindus kept quiet. It is another issue that the BJP was part of the TDP government but its ministers were seldom consulted. In the case of demolition of the temples for the Krishna Pushkaram, the endowments minister, who was from the BJP was kept in the dark,” says the observer.
Since the demolition of the temples went without many a hue and cry being raised, anti-Hindu elements have gathered the courage to attack the temples during the current regime, says the observer.
The Naidu government, too, took liberties since people did not hold it responsible openly for the demolitions, though seers compared them with the acts of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
But those demolitions in no way justify the vandalism perpetrated against the temples during the current regime.
One of the reasons why the attacks have continued for the last 19 months on the temples is the Andhra Pradesh Home Minister Mekatoti Sucharita’s handling of these incidents.
A serious allegation against her is that she is a Christian and, therefore, actions against those who had damaged the temples have not been forthcoming easily.
That no one has been arrested all these months for the attack and charged or punished is itself an indicator of how things are handled by the YSRCP government, observers say.
The refusal of the Reddy government to even condemn the attacks is seen as an act of encouraging the attacks.
“The Home Minister apologised immediately when a Christian cemetery was damaged in the State. Has she ever done this for the attacks on temples?” asks the political observer.
In Andhra Pradesh, Christians are seen as more aggressive than their fellow-religionists in other States.
A video that did the rounds on Twitter and WhatsApp last week showed a Tehsildar in Andhra Pradesh not being allowed to go atop a hill where an old temple of Goddess existed.
When the Tehsildar pointed out and said she wanted to visit it, a group of Christians said they had bought the hill and wouldn’t allow her.
“If this is how a Tehsildar, who has documents to show the temple exists and the hill cannot be bought off, is treated, imagine the situation of others, particularly temple priests?” asks a third observer.
“If the Christian takes one step backwards, expect them to take two steps forward. Since the time of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, they have got away with whatever they did,” says the political observer, adding that the late Chief Minister of the unified State wasn't openly supporting it, though.
While some blame the TDP for the attacks on the temples, the question is why, then, was no one from that party held responsible or arrested?
If Raju can be removed as chairman of three temple trusts for the Ramatheerthan temple incident, what about the other incidents? Why are the chairpersons of those trusts still continuing and why no action against them is being taken?
So, the acts of laying foundation stones for the reconstruction of the temples can only be an eyewash, say the observers.
They also point out that rampant conversion has taken place in Andhra Pradesh, especially since the Congress took over the reins under YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the current Chief Minister’s father.
Either, no one took note of the conversions seriously or the government of the day allowed it, ignoring protests, which today has turned out to be a serious issue affecting temples.
Christian non-governmental organisations have had their way in conversions in Andhra Pradesh and not many are aware of the exact number of those converted.
Thus, this is seen as one of the strengths of the elements attacking or vandalising the temples. The government's inactions have only emboldened them.
One positive development from these attacks is that the Hindus have finally woken up to the existing reality, say observers.
“Hindus have finally woken up. This is a good sign that people have begun to question the attacks on temples. We in the BJP, too, have now decided to take this issue seriously since it is an issue relating to culture,” says a BJP think-tank leader.
The attack on the temples in Andhra Pradesh is now witnessing a consolidation of the Hindus. This has now resulted in a three-way political battle in the State between the YSCRP, TDP and the BJP.
The Congress, as usual, is not alive to the situation.
On his part, Jaganmohan Reddy is trying to undo the damage done during the last few months, but observers are not convinced.
Some term it as feigning and others as shedding “crocodile tears” but the fact is that he does not repose confidence among the majority community any more.
All these don’t mean that temples will be free from troubles. Probably, the next attack could see a stronger protest and more consolidation of the community.
“You can only expect this since the YSRCP government has given Christians more confidence to get aggressive. And things cannot be expected to improve when the Chief Minister and his family members belong to that community,” says the political observer.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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