Symposium in New Delhi against government control over temples
Senior saints and legal experts assembled in New Delhi on July 15, questioned the government control over temples and said the government must free all the temples. “When the government cannot promulgate a law to interfere in the management of mosques and churches on grounds of weeding out corruption, then why is it that Hindu temples are free for their taking? Everything associated with the temple is sacred. Even the money that is offered at the temple is sacred, and there is nothing secular about it. When someone sweeps the floor in a temple, a sacred duty is performed,” said Swami Dayananda Saraswati, convener of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (HDAS), an apex body of the Hindu religious heads. He was speaking at the concluding session of a day-long symposium on the topic ‘Government Control of Temples-Constitutional Issues’.
The symposium, held in the backdrop of a writ petition filed by the HDAS in Supreme Court challenging the constitutional provisions that empower the government to appoint controllers on temple trusts, witnessed the active participation of former judges, senior lawyers, and public representatives. Some state governments have taken over many temples. The last takeover of the Tamil Nadu government was as recent as last month when its Hindu religious and charitable endowments department took over the administration of the Sri Jalakanteswarar Temple in Vellore. The TN government now reportedly controls over 30,000 temples. A writ petition was filed on this issue in the Supreme Court last year.
The luminaries included the Rajya sabha MP and former governor as well as former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court Shri Rama Jois, former chief justice of the Rajasthan High Court Shri VS Kokje, former chief election commissioner GVK Krishnamurthy, senior lawyers Pinky Anand, KN Bhat and MN Krishnamani, Janata Party president Dr Subramanian Swamy, senior lawyer Aman Lekhi were also present on the occasion. Swami Parmatmanand, general secretary of the HDAS conducted the proceedings.
The saints and the legal experts strongly resented the misuse of the legal provisions that allow the government to control the ‘secular’ aspects of temples. Swami Dayanand Saraswati further said that in the context of the temple, there is nothing which is secular. He observed that the Hindus have nothing to be defensive about in this matter. ‘‘You have to be neither defensive, nor offensive against anyone. We have a rich tradition of teaching. We have an ancient civilisation that has withstood all the onslaughts. Our forefathers have bequeathed us this heritage. We must get these temples back to discharge our rishi-rina — the debt of great spiritual masters,” he added.
Justice (Retd) Rama Jois argued that an 11-judge Supreme Court Bench had held that Article 30 of the Constitution did not confer any special privileges on minorities. “It is not a right, it is only a protection. No one category must receive preferential treatment.”
Backing the argument made by Swami Dayanand, Justice (Retd) VS Kokje said, “In the garb of regulating secular practices, governments have also started controlling intertwined religious practices, which ends up violating Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution,” he added.
Speaking at the inaugural session senior lawyer Shri Aman Lekhi outlined the various aspects of the constitutional mechanism through which the government takes control of temple property. ‘‘They do not interfere with the religious rites that are performed at the temple, but then in the garb of correcting the irregularities in the secular aspects of the temple’s functioning, like its administration, they carry out the bureaucratisation of the temples,” he observed. He added that the government collects a certain portion of the offerings at the temples as a fee. “It is this provision that allows the government to interfere in the temple administration. But the irony is that although this fee is for some services rendered, in reality there is no proportionality between the fee collected and the services rendered. On the contrary, the fee is deposited into the consolidated fund of the state, and is spent on different heads of expenditure,” he said.
Janata Party president and former Union Law Minister Dr Subramanian Swamy, who is expected to become an intervener in this petition, spoke of the need for a collective Hindu mindset in this matter. ‘‘We must understand the difference between a temple and a mosque. The puja that is offered at the temple cannot be performed anywhere else, because the deity that is worshipped resides there, but the namaz that is offered at a mosque can be performed even on a railway station,” he observed. In this context, he also added that even in Islamic countries mosques are shifted for the purposes of road building and other development works. “It has happened in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,” he added.
Dr Swamy further observed that the Constitutional right of the government to intervene in the temple administration, if the affairs are mismanaged, need not be objected to. ‘‘But then this should only be for a temporary period of three years at the most, and it cannot be extended endlessly for decades as is the case in Tirupati temple,” he said.
—Bureau Reportfamily:”e ����”,”serif”'>Though the Patel community continues to play a key role in the BJP’s success in Gujarat, the overwhelming and repeated support to the Chief Minister, who belongs to a minority caste, is reflective of the changing orientation of the voters in favour of good governance vis a vis caste factors. In contrast, BJP lost in Karnataka as it banked heavily on BS Yeddyurappa’s Lingayat base, which deserted it once the former Chief Minister quit the party.
Apart from an enlightened choice on the part of voters and good governance on the part of ruling parties, it is also high time to consider whether a system based on proportional representation can be an antidote to caste politics in the country. Under this system, people would have to vote for parties and not individuals, thereby minimising appeals on casteist, communal or parochial lines. Political parties can also suggest other effective electoral reform measures to curb the menace rather than prompting the courts to take the lead. The Allahabad High Court ruling has to be taken as a wake up call in national interest.
(The author is Senior Fellow and Editor with the Vivekananda International Foundation)