A message claiming that the head priest of the Tirupati Balaji temple has urged Hindus to not donate to the temple is doing the rounds with a claim that the priest levelled allegations against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and said that the money is being used for the "welfare of Christian and Muslim communities".
However, we found that the claim is misleading. While it is true that the priest, at several occasions, has accused the administration of not using the donations judiciously and has even asked people to not donate, at no point has he said that the government is using the money for the welfare of other communities.
In a conversation with The Quint, Chief Priest AV Ramana Deekshitulu confirmed that he has raised questions about the donations, but has never said that the money is being used for other communities by the chief minister.
The viral message goes on to say that the head priest of Tripuati Balaji Temple has requested Hindu devotees to not donate money to the temple.
According to the message, the reason stated by the priest is that the money is spent by the Andhra Pradesh CM Jagmohan Reddy on Muslims and Christians.
WHAT WE FOUND
We contacted Head Priest PV Raman Dikshitulu to verify the claim.
Speaking to The Quint, he said that he had expressed concerns over use of donation money, following which he appealed to the devotees to donate to a place where their money is used properly. But he rubbished the communal claim made in the message.
"As the head priest, it is my duty to ensure that the donation money is being put to good use. In my opinion, distribution of salaries, forming committees or construction isn't good use. And that's precisely why I asked devotees to not donate any money. I have never said that the money is being used for Muslims, Christians or anyone else. My statement is being misrepresented."
We looked up reports on the matter and found that this has been going on for a few years.
As per a report published on The News Minute from May 2018, Deekshitulu had demanded an open audit of the donations, alleging that the temple administration was swindling money.
Reportedly, he had also submitted a representation to the chief justice of India, president, prime minister, and then state chief minister.
WHAT WERE THE ALLEGATIONS LEVELLED BY THE HEAD PRIEST?
In 2018, Deekshitulu had levelled some serious allegations against the temple administration.
He alleged that the administration drilled holes in several old walls and floors of the temple in the name of beautification and created a separate path for VIPs. He sought intervention of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in this matter to assess the damage.
He also alleged that the authorities don't disclose anything about the ornaments that the temple received. He said that those ornaments are only seen during processions, adding that they don't know what happened to the old ornaments.
Another allegation was with respect to the appointment of temple priests. He said that the authorities bypassed the TTD guidelines and shuffled the priests as per their whims.
There was not a single report which mentioned that the priest levelled allegations pertaining to usage of funds for welfare of Muslims or Christians.
According to a report published in the Hindustan Times on 16 May 2018, the trust board of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) held a meeting a day after this and decided that all priests who had crossed 65 years of age would have to retire.
Three priests, including chief priest AV Raman Deekshitulu, had to retire.
WHAT ABOUT THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST YS JAGAN MOHAN REDDY?
According to the viral message, the head priest of Tirupati Balaji temple has accused CM Jagan Mohan Reddy of using the donations for Muslims and Christians.
This assertion is completely false. The truth is that the head priest, who was forced to quit after accusing the Tirupati Balaji temple management of corruption, was reinstated after Reddy came to power.
A report published in the The New Indian Express on 4 April 2021 stated that two priests had approached the high court after the temple trust's decision.
The HC had held the trust's decision was unconstitutional. However, the court order was not implemented at the Tirumala temple. Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was in Opposition at the time, promised to bring back the hereditary priests, if elected.
Speaking to The Quint, Deekshitulu reiterated that he didn't make any political statement.
In an email exchange with The Quint, Tirupati Balaji Temple Trust, too, rubbished the claims and said that "the viral message is not true".
NO SUCH CLAIMS IN THE INTERVIEW
Even the video clip which is being circulated along with the claim makes no mention of the priest saying that the money is being used for other communities.
We found out that this clip is nearly three years old. (You can watch the interview here)
Evidently, facts have been distorted in the viral post to give the matter a false communal tone.
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