Kommineni Srinivasa Rao

God, faith and religion are matters of belief. When issues related to faith take a controversial turn, people’s sentiments get hurt. The ongoing controversy at the Tirumala Tirupati shrine, is a serious matter which reflects the damage done to the belief of millions of devotees. Lord Venkateswara is worshipped by crores of believers across India and elsewhere in the world. The matter relates not just to the daily rituals conducted at the temple, but to many other subjects. It assumes great significance because the former head priest, Ramana Deekshitulu, who had held that position for long years, himself is making several grave charges.

The charge of disappearance of jewellery belonging to Lord Venkateswara by the former head priest is among the most serious ones. Ramana Deekshitulu alleged that precious jewellery worth thousands of crores of rupees and disappeared in 1996 during Chandrababu Naidu‘s tenure as chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh. This is an accusation which assumes special significance.

However, the fact that the former head priest had not made this accusation all these years or brought this to light earlier, has led to a lot of criticism. It is only after Ramana Deekshitulu was removed as head priest that these accusations are coming to light is a point of criticism now.

The government needs to be measured in its responses to such serious allegations or should take immediate steps to ensure that devotees do not have any suspicion in their minds. It should also be prepared to get all the details of the items of jewellery checked and should be ready for a probe. For some strange reason, the Chandrababu Naidu government appears to be on the back foot. The fact that the former head priest took his complaint to the Home ministry at the Centre shows the seriousness of his charges. He is reiterating some of the issues raised in a report earlier.

Ramana Deekshitulu has been questioning how it was possible for a diamond to break when hit by coins thrown at the deity by devotees. Interestingly, the chairman of TTD Sudhakar Yadav and its EO Anil Kumar Singhal, sought to know from where they should get something which was never there in the first place because what had been broken to bits by coins was a ruby and not a diamond. This gives it an interesting twist. Supporting Ramana Deekshitulu's contention, Chenna Reddy, another official of the TTD also said that items of jewellery donated to the deity by Sri Krishna Deva Raya and other kings of medieval India, had gone missing.

When such serious charges are being levelled against the TDP government, it is only fair to expect a proper investigation by a former judge, if not a CBI probe. Alternatively, the government can display all the items of jewellery which are alleged to be missing to those who are making these accusations and clear the air. Nothing of the sort has happened. During the late Dr YS Rajashekhar Reddy‘s period, he agreed to all the probes sought by Chandrababu Naidu and even requested for a CBI probe in the Paritala Ravi murder case.

Similarly, Chandrababu Naidu made all kinds of irresponsible allegations with regard to the Outer Ring Road issue. Dr YSR did not hesitate to seek a CBI probe at that time.

Chandrababu Naidu, on the other hand, is clearly acting defensively. He has not referred to a probe. Instead, it now appears as if the TTD controversy is a spat between the Brahmin community and Chandrababu Naidu. IYR Krishna Rao, former chief secretary has gone so far as to suggest that a particular community has vitiated the atmosphere through casteist politics in the state. In his previous stint, Chandrababu Naidu did not allow this issue to rise to the surface to this extent. This time around, the Chandrababu Naidu government has become a target of criticism for patronising corruption, casteism and abuse of authority in an indiscriminate fashion.

The Brahmin community came together to criticise Chandrababu Naidu saying that he was hostile to it, humiliated it and discriminated against it. Chandrababu has himself to blame for this turn of events. It is widely known that the head priest of Chilkuru Balaji Temple, Rangarajan, had questioned Chandrababu Naidu on the induction of his son, Lokesh into the cabinet. He also faulted Chandrababu Naidu on the issue of celebrating Ugadi with his family members including his grandson. He had converted the state government function into a family affair, in doing so. This was the widespread criticism at that time on social media, as well. Neither Chandrababu, nor his fellow leaders from the TDP had any answers to this.

Whenever he goes to Tirupati, Chandrababu claims that he is a devotee of Lord Venkateswara. However, in Amravati, it appears as though he is trying to promote Buddhism. Instead of having the photograph or image of any Hindu god or goddess in his office, he has one of the Buddha. While one might accept this saying that it is alright for everyone to follow any faith, Chandrababu Naidu probably wants to be seen as some kind of a role model to humanity. Does he practice what he preaches? He is constantly propagating falsehoods, indulging in mudslinging, creating conflicts and hostilities and always thriving in trouble and turmoil. All these activities run contrary to the fundamental tenets of Buddhism.

Chandrababu Naidu has turned the Tirumala shrine into the eye of the storm. We need to keep a close watch on how the TTD controversy pans out in the days and weeks to come.