In Tamil Nadu, a verbal war over control of temples is raging between DMK leader and state Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan and spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev.
In a recent interview to The Hindu, Thiaga Rajan had dismissed as ‘nonsense’ the demand to free temples from the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department. The demand had been raised by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Vasudev, who runs Isha Foundation.
“Random people make random noise. These are the people who want to break the goodwill of the society,”P Thiaga Rajan
Now, the minister has asked ‘relevant authorities’ of India and the United States to investigate Vasudev.
PTR Calls Jaggi Vasudev ‘Commercial Operator’
When asked about the demand made by Isha Foundation’s founder Vasudev, he told the publication, “In the case of Jaggi, he is a publicity hound who is trying to find another angle to make more money.”
Will a godman, who is focussed on god, be selling Sivarathri tickets for Rs 5 lakh, Rs 50,000 and Rs 5,000? Is this the sign of man of God? Is that the identifying mark of a spiritual man? He is a commercial operator pretending to use god and religion to get help.Tamil Nadu’s Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan
The minister’s grandfather PT Rajan was the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency and leader of the Justice Party, which was instrumental in creating the HR&CE Department.
Isha Foundation Lashes Out
In a response to the interview, Isha Foundation’s volunteers slammed Thiaga Rajan, saying, “it was certainly unbecoming of an elected representative” to make such comments.
“We regret the deterioration of this culture and the poor standard of public discourse,” the letter noted.
“We are appalled that a man of his (Jaggi Vasudev) stature has been subject to the minister’s unparliamentary and uncalled for personal attack, calling him ‘publicity hound’ and ‘commercial operator’”Letter by Isha Foundation
Thiaga Rajan, however, did not let up his criticism. Responding to a tweet by Malini Parthasarathy, the Chairperson of The Hindu Publishing group, in which she had tweeted the open letter of Isha volunteers, Thiaga Rajan again stressed that Vasudev is a ‘violator of law’ and will ‘pay sooner or later’.
On Wednesday, 19 May, Thiaga Rajan further commented on the issue of “privatising HR&CE temples” and said that relevant authorities in India and the United States must conduct their independent investigations on Vasudev.
In a statement, he said that he often jokes with “friends” who support privatisation of temples that most contributions to temples come from those who want government control.
He further went on to say how he became aware of Vasudev’s ‘violations’.
“I first became aware of Jaggi Vasudev and his Isha Foundation as a member of the 15th Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu’s Public Accounts Committee, where I came across an audit paragraph. This spurred me to research the issue further and I became aware of many other potential violations and prima-facie illegal activities in this individual’s past.”P Thiaga Rajan
Thiaga Rajan has also attached a portion of the said audit report along with his statement. He was, however, not interested in prosecuting the audit findings as it was not his “highest personal priority” among other responsibilities in his public service, he clarified.
He has entered the fray now, because he could no longer stay disinterested when Jaggi turned to “privatise temples as his next publicity and revenue dimension”. Although it is not his official responsibility, he said that he would share the evidence in his possession with relevant authorities “just as a dutiful citizen” as it convinces him beyond all probable doubt that Vasudev has repeatedly violated multiple laws and statutes.
His statement further read,
Under the rule of law, the relevant authorities in India and the United States of America must conduct their independent investigations, without interference from anyone including myself.P Thiaga Rajan
Thiaga Rajan’s statement further added that he will from now on focus on COVID related work, adding that he will no longer comment on the issue on privatisation of temples as it was not his portfolio.
Meanwhile, social media trolls supporting Vasudev have accused Thiaga Rajan of being an Overseas Citizen of India cardholder. Thiaga Rajan is, however, an Indian citizen and a public representative.
TN Decides To Make Endowment Dept Transparent
The Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday, 18 May decided to bring in more transparency in the HR&CE department by digitising all papers regarding properties and assets owned by temples across the state – estimated to be over 44,000 – and make them available in the public domain. The move is in line with a poll promise made by Chief Minister M K Stalin, The Indian Express reported.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Minister for HR&CE PK Sekhar Babu.
As the next step, a senior official told the publication, “all temple assets and land records would be registered in the name of deities…to prevent individuals and other entities from attempts to usurp assets”.
Vasudev Appreciates TN’s Move
Calling it a “historic step in the right direction,” Vasudev took to Twitter to congratulate the Tamil Nadu Government and the state’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department on its decision to digitise records.
“Congratulations to the HR&CE Dept. & Govt. of Tamil Nadu on taking a historic step in the right direction. We appreciate your swift action, responding to citizens’ call. Transparency is the first step towards good governance...,” his tweet read.