Y. Satyanarayana

The head priest of one of the holiest shrines in the country, Lord Venkateswara Swamy temple in Tirumala, Ramana Deekshitulu, has fired several broadsides at Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, accusing him of corruption and violating the laid down scriptures. Among the most serious charges made by the priest is the disappearance of some rarest of rare pieces of jewellery, including the Pink Raj diamond which was offered to the deity by the Maharaja of Mysore.

According to Ramana Deekshitulu, this diamond surfaced at an auction conducted by the reputed auction house, Sotheby's in Geneva last November. He also said that several other items of jewellery donated by the Chola and Pallava kings had gone missing. These are serious allegations which merit a proper investigation.

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The head priest referred to a report prepared by an IPS officer on ways and means of ensuring the temple's jewellery items safe. One of the loopholes in the system pointed out in the report, according to the priest, was that the custodian of the Lord's jewels was one individual. The issue of government control over temples and temple lands has been resisted for a long time, but Chandrababu has come increasingly under fire over this matter because of the aggressive manner in which he has gone about things. The Sadavarti lands controversy is a case in point.

All this bodes ill for Chandrababu Naidu and his party. Tirumala Tirupati apart from its unparalleled religious significance holds great sentimental value for Hindus of not just both the Telugu-speaking states, but across the world. News of such violations--offerings and ceremonies (naivedya-deeparadhana) being modified as pointed out by the head priest and a view endorsed by former AP chief secretary, IYR Krishna Rao, comes as a shock to Hindus the world over. The retired civil servant has also highlighted many of the other transgressions committed by Chandrababu Naidu.

The decision to do away with the hereditary rights of archakas or temple priests could cost Chandrababu Naidu dearly in the elections. The fact that these rights have in place for centuries as a part of civilisational continuity in terms of tradition, puts him in an awkward spot.

There isn't one single segment of society whom the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has not alienated, barring certain crony capitalists and beneficiaries of his largesse. The latest stratum of the social fabric happen to be Brahmins and temple priests. The electoral results of 2019 in AP stares Chandrababu in the face. Only a miracle can save him from certain defeat it appears. No wonder, he has desperately been trying to cosy up to the opposition parties, but the problem again is--who wants to do business with him?