In a satisfying rebuff to the aggressively evangelical Congress government in Andhra Pradesh, the Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samiti won a major victory in the High Court last Tuesday with Chief Justice Mr. Anil Ramesh Dave refusing to vacate a stay on state takeover of temple lands for housing the homeless. Mr. Dave instead asserted that the government cannot take temple lands for its schemes and should find land from what is available with it.
In March-April 2006, the Congress regime under chief minister Samuel Rajasekhar Reddy, an avid supporter of the evangelical Seventh Day Adventists, had decided to legally and brazenly strip Hindu temples of their already depleted landed assets. District Collectors were ordered to use temple lands for the chief minister'spet project – Indiramma Pathakam – land for the landless poor.
In a swift move in May 2006 itself, Swami Kamal Kumar managed to obtain a stay order from the AP High Court. Prior to moving the court, he visited nearly 90 villages whose temple lands were slated for appropriation and redistribution and persuaded the villagers not to touch the temple lands, and not build houses upon them if allotted by the government. This public pledge helped Sw. Kamal Kumar obtain the stay to save the endowed properties of Hindu temples.
Sw. Kamal Kumar also informed the Court about the status of temple lands taken in East and West Godavari Districts, especially the compensation paid or promised, as per official records obtained under the RTI Act. This created a major embarrassment for the Congress regime as the High Court queried the status of compensation for lands already taken over and the reasons why many temples had closed down for want of regular income. The government failed to file its reply to this query even two years later.
Hindu activists had insisted wisely that they would not accept any monetary compensation for the lands, but only alternate fertile government lands for the temples whose lands were seized. The government responded by filing 50 individual writ petitions (one for each project) in the High Court pleading for vacation of stay. But this time, instead of land for the homeless, it invented a new excuse of irrigation projects like Polavaram and Pulichintala.
But the mills of god grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. Chief Justice Dave refused to let the government take temple lands for the Indiramma Pathakam project. Regarding the regime'sfresh excuse of taking temple lands for irrigation projects, he said these would be examined separately and till then the government should not make any move.
This victory follows a 3200-km Maha Padyatra, from Basara'sSaraswati Mandir to Tirumala Balaji, in 130 days, covering over 2500 village temples and interacting with thousands of Hindu devotees. This brainchild of Swami Kamal Kumar, Gen Secretary of Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samiti, was a virtual war cry against the state'sEndowment Department. Its key theme was ?Mana MandirAlani ManamE KApadukontAm? (?let us protect our own Mandirs?).
Hindu activists are so enthused by the response that they are urging sadhus and saints to revive the glorious tradition of padyatra and save society from the scourge of evangelism and the predations of the secular state. Some saints are making preparations to lead padyatras from their respective mathams to Tirupathi, which itself was under tremendous missionary pressure barely three years ago. At that time, intense and organised Hindu anger forced the government to intervene and declare all seven hills as the body of Lord Venkateswara and ban all missionary activity in the area. Though the proposed padyatras are just 50 kms, they will embrace a large number of villages and involve the local Hindu community along the route.
The Basara Saraswathi Mandir to Tirumala Balaji Padyatra was supported by Sri Subramania Yadav, State Vice President of Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samiti and Sri Shailendra Mishra, who are struggling to abolish the Hindu Endowment Act and the Endowment Department.
The Bhakti Sangamam concluded on 25 January 2008, with people from various districts joining and swelling the numbers to over 8000 at Tirupathi. As the Tirupathi Devasthanam is currently under the Endowments Department, officials in charge disappeared from public view, leaving juniors to resist the arrival of so many bhaktas who needed to be cared for. The organisers of the Padyatra threatened to set up makeshift arrangements on the lawns if provisions were not made. Eventually the authorities agreed to provide a guest house at official rates.
However, the authorities relented later and graciously cared for the devotees for the duration of the Sangamam at Tirumala. More gracefully, they arranged easy darshan of Bhagawan for all 8000 pilgrims, who included tribal Lambadas, Banjaras and others. They were treated as VIPs by the TTD.
The Kanchi Acharyas sent their blessings to the Sangaman and to the Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samiti; they asked the gathering to follow Sanatana Dharma. Seers like Pujyasri Aprameyanandagiri Swamiji, Vyasashram, Yerpedu; Sri Arjun Dasji Maharaj, Mahant of Hathiram ji Matham, Tirumala; Sri Vrathadara Srinivasa Ramanuja Jeeyar Swamiji of Jaggannath Matham, Hyderabad; Sri Paripoornananda Saraswati Swamiji of Sri Peetham, Kakinada, addressed the gathering.
Swami Kamal Kumar summed up the sentiments of the gathering with the demand that the Andhra Government promise not to takeover new temples under the Endowment Act. He said it must immediately end public auction or sale of temple lands. The fixed deposits of temples have vanished due to withdrawals made by the Department, and the Swami demanded the government restore the funds to the temples. Finally, he said the sale proceeds from sale of temple lands have not been credited to Mandir Accounts; the compensation must be at prevailing market value and not on notional values.