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Will Repeal of Char Dham Act Help BJP Cut Losses Among Uttarakhand Priests?

BJP has been forced to take another major U-Turn ahead of polls, this time under pressure from temple priests.

Updated
Will Repeal of Char Dham Act Help BJP Cut Losses Among Uttarakhand Priests?
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Barely a day after the farm laws were repealed, the BJP took another major U-Turn in the run-up to the Assembly polls — the withdrawal of the Char Dham Devasthanam Board Act in Uttarakhand.

Popularly called the Char Dham law or the Devasthanam law, the Act brought over 50 temples – including the Chhota Char Dham temples of Gangotri, Yamnotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath – under state control.

WHAT DID THE ACT ENTAIL?

The law was conceptualised in 2017 when the BJP came to power and passed in 2019. It was on the lines of similar laws such as the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Act and Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam Board Act.

The Act provided for the creation of a 29-member management board, which includes seven senior IAS officers as its ex-officio members and 20 nominated members.

The Act gave the board control over the temple properties and gave it right to acquire land near the pilgrimage sites.

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WHY WAS THE ACT BEING OPPOSED?

The government was forced to withdraw the Act due to protests from priests, who had been opposing it from the time it was passed. The priests feared that it would deprive them of their traditional share from temples as well as the right over land.

Many priests have been living in and around temples for decades and feared that government acquisition of land could lead to their eviction.

The priests' woes had compounded in 2020 due to a massive fall in religious tourism in Uttarakhand following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several priests had come under debt and this added to the anger against the law.

"The BJP had become arrogant with its massive majority in the state and Centre and they thought they could take control of temples and increase their own revenue," a senior priest had told The Quint on an earlier occasion regarding this issue.

WHY WAS IT WITHDRAWN?

The priests' protests had intensified in the run-up to the Assembly elections. The protesters were emboldened with the change of guard in Uttarakhand.

In particular, Trivendra Singh Rawat's removal was seen as a major victory as the Act was seen as his project.

With the BJP replacing Trivendra Singh Rawat with Tirath Singh Rawat and then, a few months later, replacing Tirath with Pushkar Singh Dhami, the priests realised that the party is on a sticky wicket in the elections.

Pushing for their demands, they threatened to protest during PM Narendra Modi's visit to Kedarnath. A few days before the PM's visit, they stopped Trivendra Singh Rawat from entering the Kedarnath temple premises.

Already facing anti-incumbency, the BJP couldn't afford to take further risks in the poll-bound state. Hence, the party decided to cut its losses and withdraw the Act, much like the CM change in Uttarakhand or the farm laws' repeal nationally. Whether it is enough electorally remains to be seen.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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