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Both the TDP and the BJP allege that the attack on temples is a “conspiracy” orchestrated by the ruling YSRCP.
Balakrishna Ganeshan |TNM Online | Hyderabad | Oct 1, 2020:: The first domino in Andhra Pradesh’s latest political battleground, so to speak, fell on September 6 – although it gained political significance slowly, over many days. A chariot was found burnt in the temple town of Antarvedi in the East Godavari district on the morning of September 6. How did it burn? Was it set on fire? Who was behind the incident? The answers to these questions are unclear, and the state police are looking into the incident. However, on September 23, several right-wing accounts started posting photos of the burning chariot from the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple.
The posts were a targeted campaign against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy and claimed that Hindus were facing a threat under his government. The hashtag employed was #AndhraTemplesInDanger.
And the strength of the claim rested in the fact that Jagan is a devout Christian, and therefore, his government is a “Christian government”. According to the BJP, more than 20 temples have been attacked in the last 15 months, ever since Jagan came to power.
Tagging onto the #AndhraTemplesInDanger campaign, the TDP has alleged that there are at least 80 incidents that have ‘hurt the sentiments of Hindus’ since May 2019. This list includes theft of idols from temples, the printing of Haj and Jerusalem pilgrimage ads on the Tirumala bus tickets and stopping the Divya Darshan scheme among other things. Both the TDP and the BJP have been claiming that these incidents are interrelated and that there is an “orchestrated conspiracy” to attack temples in the state.
The politics got so loud that on September 28, Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police, Gautam Sawang, held a press conference to clarify that these incidents were standalone. There have been 19 incidents of temples being attacked since the Antarvedi chariot-burning, he said, adding that the police are investigating all of them. The DGP and other police officers have also clarified that a few were instances of robbery by treasure hunters and had no religious angle.
Stating that the police have made arrests in 12 of the 19 crimes, the DGP said, “All these are standalone incidents, each one has a different motive. There seems to be a rather aggressive attempt being made to link all these incidents to spin a narrative, which is wrong.”
Since the Antarvedi chariot burning, both BJP and TDP, which had snapped ties with each other earlier back in 2018, have come to an unofficial consensus to blame CM Jagan for the attacks on temples.
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Sensing polarisation, Chief Minister Jagan on September 10 asked for an impartial probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the chariot burning incident. However, this is just the latest in a series of political battles with Jagan’s identity in centrestage. And religion-for-politics in the state is just starting to get heated up, say analysts.
Ever since Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power in May 2019, his faith has been used to target his government. In August 2019, a controversy erupted when it was found that the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation buses plying in the holy shrine of Tirumala were issuing tickets with an advertisement of “special tariff” to Christians wishing to travel to Jerusalem and Muslims for Haj. During this controversy, the Opposition parties also claimed that many employees in Tirumala were non-Hindus, forcing the government to issue a warning that they will launch a crackdown on non-Hindu employees in the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam.
Further, the fact that his brother-in-law Anil Kumar is an evangelist has been used by political opponents to claim that Jagan has an ulterior motive of converting Hindus into Christians. Many political observers believe the recent trend is the launch of the ‘Hindu khatre me hai’ narrative – Hindus are in danger – in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
“The people of Andhra Pradesh do not see Jagan as a “Christian” Chief Minister. He is a Chief Minister chosen by the people. Talking on these lines actually gives credibility to the malicious discourse created by some communal elements. His faith is irrelevant to the people. Some people for their political benefit always reduce him to his religious identity which has never been a concern for the people. Jagan’s religious faith is personal for him,” said Lakshminarayana, a Hyderabad-based political commentator.
A look at data however shows that such incidents including theft, vandalism and attack on temples have been happening over the years, more or less to the same degree.
According to the police, in 2016, Andhra Pradesh saw 322 incidents of “attacks” on temples, this also includes 30 temples that were demolished to make way for the Krishna Pushkaralu arrangements. Five out of the 30 temples demolished were fairly big ones located around the famous Kanaka Durga temple in Vijayawada. The demolition drive had earned the ire of Hindu groups, the VHP and the BJP, which was the TDP’s ally.
This was when the state was ruled by the TDP, then an ally of the BJP as part of the NDA. In 2018, the number of such cases stood at 267 – and Chandrababu Naidu was still the Chief Minister that year, although his party had divorced from the NDA. In 2019, there were 305 attacks, thefts and vandalism on temples reported – a year when Chandrababu Naidu was the Chief Minister for the first five months, and Jagan Mohan Reddy took over at the end of May. In 2020 so far, there are 228 cases of temples being attacked. The numbers are not vastly different over the years, perhaps indicating that nothing has ‘changed’ so to say. And yet, this time, the Andhra Pradesh government is being accused of orchestrating these ‘temple attacks’.
And the main reason, say supporters of Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy as well as political observers, is that Jagan is a Christian. And for the opposition BJP, and increasingly the TDP, this is an opportunity to consolidate a vote bank, they add.
Speaking to TNM, Rajiv Krishna, Advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government, said that in the 10 years he has known Jagan Mohan Reddy personally, he has always been a secular person, and that the accusations against him are unfair and politically motivated. “For him, faith is something that is personal,” Rajiv said.
Emphasising that the government is doing all that it can to ensure the accused are caught, Rajiv said, “Everyone is very concerned about the attacks on temples. We need to take a step back and keep emotions under check. We need to understand that what has happened is a crime.”
“Democracy has rules and regulations that need to be followed. We are working in a systematic organised manner,” he added.
Rajiv added, “Certain opposition parties have not found anything else to target the government, hence they are linking these independent criminal acts.”
“This is happening just because the CM follows a religion that is not the Hindu majority religion,” he added.
“Hindu temples need to absolutely be protected like any other religious institutions. We will do anything in our power to find the accused. The narrative and the vague cloud that is being created linking these independent acts to the government is something we disagree with. Whoever is doing it, is clearly doing it to put us down,” Rajiv said.
While the TDP had previously desisted from communal campaigns against Jagan, following the Antarvedi incident, they, too, have been aggressively stressing on his religious identity. Like the BJP, the TDP too believes that the attacks on temples are “orchestrated” and a “conspiracy” by the ruling YSRCP to create divisions in the society.
“We strongly believe that these attacks are 100% orchestrated and this is a conspiracy. The ruling party’s game plan is to divide the society. Initially it was on caste lines, then it was based on regions and now it is on lines of religion. They want to target a religion and consolidate one particular vote bank,” said TDP leader Pattabhi Ram.
BJP leader Dinaker Lanka told TNM, “Apart from continuous attacks on idols and chariots of temples across the state, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy entering the temple without signing the declaration during his visit to the Tirupati Tirumala hill shrine is an attack on crores of Hindus sentiments across the world.”
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Dinaker Lanka is referring to the declaration form that the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam demands of all non-Hindus entering the temple.
Recently when Jagan visited Tirupati, the TDP had protested at several temples across the state demanding Jagan to “declare his faith” in Lord Venkateshwara – an issue, once again, that they have raised just like the BJP.
While the BJP and the TDP have questioned why Jagan did not “declare” his faith before entering the temple, in 2012 itself when a similar controversy was brewing during Jagan’s visit to the hill shrine, he had mentioned that he had already signed the declaration in 2009.
Jagan was the Member of Parliament representing the Kadapa constituency when he visited the temple in 2012. Interestingly, after Jagan’s visit, while addressing the media, TTD Executive Officer LV Subramanyam said, “The MP did not sign the declaration form. When the staff asked him for it, he told them that he had already signed the form during his visit in 2009.”
Political analyst Telakapalli Ravi said that the TDP is making a grave error in aligning their path with the BJP to corner Jagan. “The hasty competition of the TDP with the BJP will only help in BJP’s growth. For BJP the temple attack issue is a natural strategy but for TDP it is an unnatural, unthoughtful and unwarranted strategy,” he said..
However, the TDP denies adopting the BJP route of taking up religious politics, “We have not changed any agenda, nor have we adopted any other political party’s agenda. Our agenda has always been only about religious peace and harmony. If one particular religion is attacked, we will have to speak up. Even if Churches are attacked, we will speak up. This has nothing to do with the Hindutva agenda,” Pattabhi Ram said.
Interestingly, while the right-wing has been primarily furthering the agenda of temples being under attack, the YSRCP has refrained from confronting them, and has instead blamed Chandrababu Naidu. AP Minister Kodali Nani went on to actually claim that the attacks were carried out by the TDP to defame the Jagan-led government, and said that they had “proof” for the same.
“The YSRCP is not prepared to fight the BJP. In the state, the communal agenda of attacks on temples gained some prominence only because of the TDP. Since the YSRCP cannot take on the BJP directly, they are fighting with the TDP,” said Ravi.
Calling the narrative of “Hindus being under threat” as a fiction spread by the BJP, AP CPI(M) state secretariat member Chigurupati Baburao said, “The BJP is trying hard to gain some ground in the state through these communal politics. The YSRCP which has been supporting the BJP with all their decisions be it CAA, NRC or the recent Farm laws, in some way it has encouraged the BJP to grow in AP. Similarly, to take on the YSRCP, the TDP too has adopted the communal agenda. This might be an indication that the TDP might join hands with the BJP in near future. Both YSRCP and TDP are unofficial allies of BJP. And their tacit support to the BJP will be prove to be their political suicide,” Baburao noted.
Dismissing the allegations of the opposition parties as “an aggressive attempt to spin a narrative,” DGP Gautam Sawang said, “We have arrested the accused in as many as 12 out of the 19 cases of attacks on temples and temple properties since the Antarvedi incident. We are confident that we will be able to crack the rest in due course.”
“If you take the Srikakulam temple incident for example, people went on to accuse that the arm of an idol was desecrated. Our investigation revealed that the arm of the idol fell off last year due to the idol being exposed to heavy rains,” he said.
“When it comes to the Kurnool incident, the accused revealed that he desecrated the idol and stole the private parts of the deity because he was made to believe that this could lead his wife conceiving a child. Various other attacks were executed by treasure trove gangs who were hunting for treasures supposedly hidden under idols. Therefore, all these incidents have different motives and are completely unrelated,” he explained.
In a bid to thwart such attacks, the Police Chief said that they are securing the temple premises with CCTV cameras. According to the DGP, they have mapped out 47,593 places of worship and found out that only 10% of the temples are equipped with CCTV cameras.
CS Rangarajan, the Convenor of the Temples Protection Movement and also the Archaka of the Chilkur Balaji Devasthanam blames the abolition of the Dharmika Parishad – a semi autonomous body for the administration and protection of temples in Andhra – by Chandrababu Naidu, for the present crisis.
“The attacks are beyond politics. A place of worship has to be treated with respect, irrespective of the religion it belongs to. Idols being broken, chariots being broken, is not just happening in Andhra Pradesh. In Karnataka too, the Nava Brindavana was desecrated. The anger is palpable but the solution lies in forming a Dharmika Parishad,” he said.
“Because Jagan is a Christian Chief Minister, he is being blamed,” Rangarajan declared, “But we should remember that all the endowment officers are the same employees who held these posts before Jagan came to power. Only the political leadership has changed.”
Courtesy: The News Minute/ NDTV/Times Now.