If the BJP tries to politicise a temple issue to strengthen the party in his state, it will not succeed, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin said in the Tamil Nadu assembly on 12 April, reacting to BJP MLA Vanathi Srinivasan who had questioned the takeover of the Ayodhya Mandapam in Chennai by the Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE).
The HR&CE Act is a Tamil Nadu law rampantly executed to usurp temples in the state, exploited more under DMK governments than during AIADMK rule. Interestingly though, the law was not made by a DMK government. It’s a vestige of the British era when it was believed that it was better to let governmenta manage temples rather than the respective associations of families and individuals that had historically managed places of worship in India.
An organisation called Sri Ram Samaj used to manage the affairs of the mandapam located in West Mambalam. The HR&CE was scheduled to take it over through an order issued in 2013. The Madras High Court had on 31 March dismissed a plea challenging an order of the HR&CE that appointed a person to take over administration of the Mandapam.
When officials came to take over the mandapam, BJP cadre staged a protest on 11 April, after which the case went for a further appeal in court. However, the high court refused to stay the single judge order in the Ayodhya Mandapam case allowing the HR&CE department to take over the mandapam, and the case was adjourned to 21 April.
It was under Congress rule that the HR&CE Department was created to streamline the administration of temples in the state. This was soon after the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951, was promulgated.
When Srinivasan raised this issue related to the takeover of the mandapam, Speaker M Appavu expunged some of her remarks from the assembly record. She said that the action taken was not in compliance with the norms.
Minister of HR&CE Sekar Babu said in his reply to the BJP MLA that complaints of irregularities in the mandapam were received since 2004 and an inquiry was held in 2013. “The inquiry report said that the activities in the mandapam shrine went against a provision of the HR&CE Act. Subsequently, a HR&CE Executive Officer of a nearby temple was assigned to the shrine to oversee its activities. When the Samaj approached the court, an injunction was granted by it against the takeover of the mandapam by the HR&CE department years ago. However, a recent court judgment upheld the appointment,” the minister said.
The Tamil Nadu minister of HR&CE said that when officials went to the shrine to implement the order, people resisted it, hurtling stones at the HR&CE officials. Later, in the presence of the tahsildar, the HR&CE appointee took over the mandapam administration.
The Tamil Nadu minister said a group fleeced devotees for spiritual services like conduct of homa. The minister said that the state government had only implemented the court order.
The state minister also said that certain elements were trying to create an impression that the DMK government was against some communities and were trying to incite law and order issues. He said that Chief Minister Stalin would not hesitate to control such issues with an iron fist.
Stalin, joining the debate, told BJP members to work for the downtrodden and asked Srinivasan to urge her party-led union government to rein in the spiralling petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices that affected ordinary people.
Stalin also asked the BJP members to take up the issue of Tamil Nadu with the union government and to get the funds due to the state and advised the BJP MLA and her party colleagues to understand the demands of the people and act accordingly.
Chief Minister Stalin said that the state government would not allow the Ayodhya Mandapam issue to be politicised. If her party tried to unnecessarily “thrust politics” on the issue, which is before a court, it would never succeed, Stalin asserted after Babu spoke on the matter.