‘The Hindu Must Rise’: Right Wing In Kerala Takes the Temple Route

Right-wing groups in Kerala have started to take over Hindu temples that are maintained by the government.

Published
Politics
7 min read
Parthasarathy Temple, Guruvayur
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Early in the morning on 7 November, under the cover of darkness, the officials of the Malabar Devaswom Board (MDB) walked into the famed Parthasarathy temple in Guruvayur to take over its administration.

This, after they realised that the takeover procedure could not be done during the day, due to stiff opposition from devotees led by the Hindu Aikya Vedi (HAV).

An earlier attempt, on 21 September, at taking over the administration of the temple had sparked outrage and led to prolonged tension on the temple premises. The protesters, led by the Hindu group, locked themselves up inside the temple, preventing devotees, Devaswom officials and the police from entering the temple.

These protesters had assembled thanks to WhatsApp messages, calling on Hindus to ‘save their honour’, the temple’s Executive Officer Biju told TNM.

Once we reached the temple, news spread like wildfire that we have come to illegally take over what’s theirs, and that all the devotees must show up to resist us. We, along with the police, stood outside till 5 pm in the evening trying to negotiate with the protesters, but they didn’t budge. There were WhatsApp messages being circulated to create a picture that there was a threat to the temple and that the people need to be on the streets to prevent that. More than anything, they made it look like a communal issue.
Biju, Executive Officer of Malabar Devaswom Board (MDB)

Several messages urged Hindus not to deposit money at the temple hundi, for it would be taken by a communist and atheist government.

When Devaswom officials finally completed the takeover, it created a furore, with the HAV calling for a hartal in the district and the BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan coming down heavily on the LDF government.

'The Hindu Must Rise'

The intervention by HAV in the Parthasarathy temple takeover is not an isolated one. In a clear pattern that is emerging from all over Kerala, organisations affiliated to the Sangh Parivar and smaller independent Hindu groups are positioning themselves as guardians of temples.

In many cases of conflicts at temples mostly run by upper castes, these groups have been intervening actively. “There are not many temples run by Hindu minorities and most do not generate as much revenue,” says Gopalankutty Master of the RSS.

The narrative of “Hindu unaranam” (the Hindu must rise) appears to be getting more traction in Kerala in the last few months, more than ever before. Political commentators see this as the BJP’s efforts to make inroads in the state, where it currently has only one MLA in the state legislative assembly.

Senior journalist and political commentator BRP Bhaskar said that there was hardly anything surprising about the right wing’s “temple campaign.”

They have always played the temple card to mobilise Hindus. Historically, we can see that the growth of Hindu communalism is with the help of temples. When the transition from Buddhism to Hinduism happened, there was large scale destruction and takeover by the Hindus. Temples have always been in their design.
BRP Bhaskar, senior journalist and political commentator

The online and offline campaigns to “sensitise” the Hindu are only an attempt at mobilising people, BRP observed.

Even outside Kerala, the right wing has been cashing in on the ‘Hindu must rise’ slogan.

Elaborating on this, BRP said:

“'Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain' is the sentiment they propagated in the North. A sense of inferiority is at play here. India is a country that was dominated by Muslim and foreign rulers for years. An inferiority complex left behind by years of colonialism is now finding expression among Hindus in the country. To overcome this complex, they are devolving a superiority complex with such campaigns,” BRP said.

Opposing the Devaswom

Since the LDF government came to power, accusations of it being anti-Hindu have abounded. Since the Parthasarathy temple controversy began, messages asking Hindu devotees to stop buying paid prasad from temples have begun spreading in many circles. One of the messages was about the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, which is governed by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TBD).

“Aravana payasam and appam are not prasad, but commodities that the Devaswom has put up for sale. Boycott them,” read a message in Malayalam.

Right wing Kerala whatsapp group
Right wing Kerala whatsapp group
(Photo: Whatsapp)
“Visit Sabarimala temple with all your devotion, but do not put any money in the temple hundi. No god will be angry at you for not depositing money there, the money goes to the government. Not just Sabarimala, but we should do this at every temple governed by Devaswom boards,” read another.

There are five Devaswoms Boards in Kerala: Cochin Devaswom Board, Travancore Devaswom Board, Malabar Devaswom Board, Koodalmanickam Devaswom Board and Malabar Devaswom Board.

Each of these bodies working under the government control the administration of thousands of temples spread across districts in the state.

A few days after the Parthasarathy temple came under the Malabar Devaswom Board, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organised a ‘Kshethra Raksha Sangamam’ (Save temple sangham) in Kozhikode.

The one-day event was only one among the RSS’s many efforts to “sensitise” the Hindu population in the state, RSS state general secretary Gopalankutty Master told TNM.

The event saw representatives from right-wing bodies and trustees of prosperous temples that are likely to be taken over by the government.

“Our temples are under threat. This LDF government is trying every trick to take possession of our Hindu temples, there is no fairness in it,” he alleged.

Gopalankutty accused the government of targeting only Hindu temples and not the governing bodies of other religions, and warned of visible and extensive protests to prevent it.

Every Hindu has the right to worship. Hindu temples must be governed by Hindus and not the government. This is utter discrimination against a Hindu’s constitutional rights. Do they do the same with Christians and Muslims? They get to keep the revenue from churches and mosques.
Gopalankutty Master, State General Secretary, RSS 

While these groups do not rule out legal recourse, the RSS emphasis thus far has strongly been on people’s protest. And the response from people has been growing too, said Gopalankutty.

“Positively, Hindus are now more aware of their rights and the discrimination that’s happening with them. Earlier, just causes had the support of the RSS, HAV, BJP people only. But now, every Hindu understands this and is coming forward to act. If need be, we know how to get all those temples back,” Gopalankutty said.

Asked about their opposition to the government taking over temples, Gopalankutty argued that the Communists, who were previously against temples and worship, are now interested in taking them over only for the money.

“Now they are seeing that our temples are generating revenue and that development is taking place. Suddenly, the Communists are changing their principles. They just want to plunder the wealth of these temples,” he argued.

He alleged that this motive was visible in the takeover of the Parthasarathy temple in Guruvayur too.

“This temple is very close to the Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple and most people who visit the latter also go to the Parthasarathy temple. This means there is a steady revenue that is being generated and that explains why the government is interested. Why are they not interested in smaller temples?” he questioned.

However, the office of the Kerala Devaswom Minister, Kadakampally Surendran, rubbished the allegation. An official at the Minister’s office said that the government only intervenes when there is a complaint of corruption in a temple.

Corruption happens in temples where there is more revenue. That’s where disputes arise and the government’s intervention is mandatory. The government is not taking any money from these temples; the money goes back to the temples in terms of developmental projects. Campaigns to generate negative sentiment against the government are misleading.
Kadakampally Surendran, official at the Kerala Devaswom Minister’s office

Victim Narratives

The RSS seems to have won over sympathisers like Satheesh Kumar Thekkedath, a native of Kozhikode. His family-owned temple, Azhakodi Devi Maha Kshethram on Mavoor Road in the district, was taken over by the Malabar Devaswom Board three years ago, during the tenure of the UDF government.

Speaking to TNM, he alleged that the situation has only worsened at the hands of the LDF government.

It was in the last decade that our temple began generating more revenue. We had even built a community hall inside the temple compound. Three years ago, the Devaswom officials and a huge battalion of police barged in to take control. CPI(M) wants their people in every temple committee.
Satheesh Kumar Thekkedath, Kozhikode native

Allies like Satheesh are crucial to the Sangh Parivar’s narrative. It is through them that narratives of ‘victimhood’ are spread through the state. WhatsApp groups, Facebook pages and other social media platforms are being used to spread this message.

Different Rules for Different Governments?

Importantly, both Gopalankutty and Satheesh argue, it is not the government takeover of temples that is the problem, but that it is an LDF government, led by the CPI (M) doing it. The situation would be different if Kerala had been a BJP-ruled state, they say.

In BJP-ruled states, there is development happening and not corruption. BJP serves people and does not plunder the temples’ wealth like the Left government. The Left government is partial to Christians and Muslims, but targets only the Hindus.
Gopalankutty Master, RSS state general secretary 

Commenting on the Communist government being seen as targeting Hindus, BRP said: “Most part of the CPI (M)’s membership consists of Hindus and it was not able to attract minorities for a very long time. Now that they are succeeding in doing so, they will be seen as favouring Christians and the Muslims.”

Although the right wing in Kerala is aiming for Hindu mobilisation through its involvement in such issues, BRP felt that Kerala would be a hard nut to crack for them.

“Tamil Nadu and Kerala are going to be difficult for the BJP. Both states have witnessed social reforms. The basic character of both these states is against domination by Hindus. TN has had an anti-Brahmin movement. Kerala, too, is against caste domination. That historical background will turn out to be difficult for the BJP in both the states. Instead of communalising issues, they should be addressing them,” he said.

(This article was originally published in The News Minute)

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