With the Lok Sabha Elections looming and the anticipation of the Election Commission announcing the poll schedule in the first week of March, political parties are intensifying their efforts to secure a significant mandate. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), facing scrutiny for its failure to fulfill over 500 election promises made during the 2021 assembly polls, is striving to secure victory in all 40 constituencies.
A major challenge for the DMK lies in its perceived anti-Hindu stance, which has drawn criticism for its policies on Hindutva, Hinduism, and interference in religious customs, particularly regarding Hindu temples. The party has been accused of minority appeasement at the expense of Hindu interests. Minister Udhaya Nidhi Stalin’s controversial remarks on eradicating Sanatana Dharma have triggered nationwide outrage and are believed to have impacted the electoral prospects of the Congress, an ally of the DMK, in Hindu-dominated regions.
Notably, former Thuglak Editor Cho Ramaswamy once remarked that the DMK would resort to any means, even carrying Kavadis (a Hindu religious ritual), to win elections.
What Cho said will happen soon – dmk fellows will take kaavadi for votes
— S. Ranganathan (@rangats) July 18, 2020
The Tamil Nadu government, led by the DMK, has initiated a pilgrimage scheme that aims to sponsor approximately 300 individuals annually for a spiritual journey from Rameswaram to Kashi (Varanasi). The move comes against a backdrop of ongoing controversies surrounding the management of Hindu temples in the state.
Under the DMK rule, the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department has faced criticism for arbitrary hikes in entry and ticket charges for temple visits, allegedly leaving the economically disadvantaged without access to religious spaces. Devotees have also protested changes to Hindu rituals that are perceived to deviate from traditional Agama rituals and scriptures.
The DMK government has been accused of providing financial assistance to minorities for pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, as well as offering salaries to Muslim clerics and Church pastors and employees. In contrast, Hindu priests reportedly receive lower salaries with mounting arrears. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the condition of many temples, which are allegedly in poor and dilapidated states.
Efforts to unite Hindus for a powerful vote bank by various organisations are underway in response to these grievances. The Central government’s initiatives, such as Kasi Sangamam 1 and 2, which took people from Tamil Nadu to Varanasi, Prayagraj, and Ayodhya, have served as a model for the state government’s latest pilgrimage proposal.
HR and CE Minister PK Sekar Babu, speaking to the media after sending off the first batch on February 1, stated that Chief Minister Stalin had sanctioned Rs 50 lakh for the pilgrimage scheme. The government aims to increase the number of pilgrims to 300 and has allocated Rs.75 lakhs for the initiative. The participants will embark on their journeys in batches on February 8, 15, 22, and 29, accompanied by officials and a medical team.
Minister Babu highlighted the government’s efforts in organising pilgrimages to Amman temples during the month of Aadi (Asadha) and to Vaishnavite temples in the month of Puratasi. He also mentioned visits to the Arupadi Veedu (Six abodes) of Lord Muruga for senior citizens, benefiting a total of 207 individuals.
The minister claimed that without releasing a white paper, as demanded by the BJP, the government had successfully retrieved temple lands worth Rs 5,572 crore from encroachers. Additionally, he noted that 122 temples were undergoing renovation at a cost of Rs 78.44 crores.
The scheme, which offers free trips to senior citizens to visit the six abodes of Lord Muruga, has come under scrutiny for its financial implications. HR and CE Minister Sekar Babu stated that the government would spend Rs. 50,000 per individual, with the government bearing Rs. 15,830 of the cost under the subsidy head. However, critics have raised concerns over the inflated cost, comparing it to similar pilgrimage schemes offered by other organizations at much lower rates.
Critics argue that while the BJP’s pilgrimage to Ayodhya includes all expenses at a cost of Rs. 3,100 per head, the TN government’s scheme claims to spend Rs. 50,000 per person. Additionally, questions have been raised about the necessity of such high expenses for visits to temples within India.
Advocate Kutralanathan, a functionary of the Hindu Munnani, expressed skepticism about the government’s motives, highlighting the discrepancy in costs and the lack of transparency. He pointed out that while the government spends significant amounts on subsidies, it fails to justify the exorbitant expenses for visits to local temples. Kutralanathan questioned whether the funds were being used appropriately and called for accountability from the government.
Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the government’s priorities, particularly regarding the allocation of resources for religious pilgrimages. Kutralanathan compared the government’s treatment of Hindu temples, which generate revenue through offerings and fees, to its sponsorship of pilgrimages for other religious groups without similar financial contributions.
The controversy has deepened with allegations of possible financial irregularities and misuse of funds earmarked for the HR and CE department. Critics argue that the discrepancies in costs raise suspicions of potential scams and call for a thorough investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, the TN government’s decision to sponsor pilgrimages for senior citizens has drawn both praise and criticism from the public. While some appreciate the initiative to facilitate religious journeys for the elderly, others question the government’s handling of the scheme and its allocation of resources.
Critics argue that the government provides substantial financial assistance to minorities, including 2500 tons of rice for Ramzan porridge, a monthly salary of Rs. 24,000 for imams, annual scholarships of Rs. 30,000 for Muslim students, and financial support of Rs One lakh for Mecca pilgrims and Rs. 37,000 for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. Additionally, Christian students receive Rs. 30,000 each as educational assistance.
Critics highlight the economic strain faced by the Tamil Nadu government, with a debt amounting to Rs. 8 lakh crores. They question the rationale behind the state’s generosity towards religious initiatives for minority groups, particularly when the government is grappling with financial challenges.
The controversy has intensified, with critics pointing out the DMK government’s contrasting approach, preventing special poojas on January 22, while organising free Anna dhan (food distribution) in temples on the death anniversary of former CM CN Annadurai. Critics argue that temples should be regarded as sacred places and not treated as dining halls, emphasising the need for religious ceremonies rather than anna dhan on such occasions.
As the debate continues, the Tamil Nadu government faces calls for transparency and a reassessment of its financial priorities, especially concerning allocations for religious assistance.