Sofa Spectacle : Dear Kerala Minister, keep the sofa, spare our temples

Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran has courted controversy by removing a throne-like seat meant for Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math Bharathi Theertha Swami

Those ruling ‘God’s own country’ seem to have taken the label a tad too seriously as ceremonies for the inauguration of ‘temple ponds’ are paraded as ‘government functions’ where ministers resort to antics in the name of equality and secularism.

What else explains a Kerala minister’s act of removing a sofa allegedly reserved for the seer of a mutt and bragging about it on social media, calling it a ‘throne’ ?

Pictures of Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Cooperatives, Tourism and Devaswom in Kerala, have been doing the rounds, in which the minister is seen removing a seat reserved for the chief of the Sringeri mutt, Sri Sri Bharati Theertha Swami. This took place at the reopening ceremony of the newly renovated Mithranandapuram pond in the premises of the Shri Padmanabhaswamy temple in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Many applauded the move, saying, for instance, “such acts abhorring displays of grandeur and opulence especially accorded to religious heads are welcome,” as quoted in the Indian Express. But no one seems to notice that the ‘throne’ in question was just a sofa in the first place.

It was also argued that the single seat occupied the space for three chairs. But sadly, for all the drama, the said seer never came, and the one who did sat quietly in a corner, not even on the dais, and left after blessing the pond.

So what do you do when a planned antic fails? Brag about it on social media and say the seer didn’t turn up for lack of a decorated sofa.

The minister said on a social media site that the state government had renovated the pond, spending Rs 1.50 crore. But why? Why does the minister have to make a virtue out of having spent the said amount?

Guess it’s time someone reminded the minister of all that the Government of Kerala has done to temples over the last few decades; perhaps that would stop him from repeating such silly stunts.

Starting from the 1800s, when the British adviser in Travancore forced the Maharani to let go of a vast extant of land, to the debate on the temple elephants of Kerala in the guise of animal welfare, Hindu Gods and their abodes on this land have always been at the receiving end of governmental whims and fancies. According to the Travancore Manual, 62,000 acres of garden lands and 548,000 acres of paddy fields from temples were forcefully converted into state lands, which had the number of land and resource-deprived temples dwindling from around 10,000 to just few hundreds to over a thousand now.

After independence, successive governments in Kerala have done all that they could to dwindle funds, property and land, and had regulations passed to enable the same. The Land Reforms Act passed by the central government is one of them, as it ripped off the temples off whatever land they were left with. Legislation like these apply exclusively to Hindu temples. Never are the churches or mosques under the ambit of any such governmental action. Buildings and Rent Control Acts have done more damage with tenants of temple property turning owners or paid pittances as rent.

Not much needs to be said about the corruption in administration. In the 1980s, the Guruvayur Temple was asked by then Kerala chief minister K Karunakaran to deposit Rs 10 crore with the state treasury to offset a government deficit. In addition, the temple’s land holdings were decimated from 13,000 acres to 230 acres by the Land Reforms Act, which conveniently excluded non-Hindu institutions. In September 2016, in a bid to tighten the leash on temple administration, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government decided to hand over the task of recruitment in temples, other than those performing rituals, to the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC).

How then is anyone to believe that we are a “secular state”? Which ‘secular republic’ has the government digging ponds and lakes in religious institutions and making a hullaballoo of it? Why is there selective implementation of Article 26 of the Indian Constitution, which provides people of all religions the freedom to manage their religious institutions?

The table below is a clear indication that when it comes to the matter of management of Hindu religious institutions, “freedom” is the last thing temples have.

Why don’t these bastions of secularism leave the Hindu religious spaces alone? If they can churn up revenues to the tunes of crores of rupees, they sure can fix their own ponds, lakes and all else that be. If only the treasure doesn’t land up with the exchequer, who then chooses to spend it elsewhere.

Equality is not about shifting sofas. If equality is to be, then it is time we rise above these dubious egalitarian measures. Secularism should be a reality, not a mere act of tokenism or, even worse, exploitation in the name of it.

Swarajya has been actively pursuing the idea of deregulation and abolishing government control of Hindu temples.

Source : Swarajya Magazine

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