Targeting of Hindu temples and incidents of desecration of idols in Andhra Pradesh have put the ruling YSR Congress and the opposition on a warpath, raising the state’s political and religious temperature.
The latest incident to roil the state occurred on December 29, 2020, when miscreants damaged an idol of Rama at a hilltop temple in Nellimarla mandal of Vizianagaram district. The police said the miscreants broke into the temple and vandalised the idol, which is said to be at least 400 years old.
There have been many such previous incidents such as the removal of a Hanuman statue from the pedestal in Pathikonda town at Kurnool district in September, demolition of the idol of Sita at Pandit Nehru Bus Station in Vijayawada, desecration of Ketu idol at a Sivalayam at Vuyyuru in Krishna district, disfiguring of Subrahmanya’s idol in Sri Vigneshwara temple in Rajahmundry and demolition of Sri Komalamma Paadaalu (god’s feet) on Paderu Ghat road in Visakhapatnam Agency.
The opposition, led by Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), BJP and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena, claims that more than 100 hundred such incidents have happened across 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh.
The recent desecration of Rama’s idol sent shock waves across Andhra Pradesh. The sporadic attacks on Hindu temples since September has pitched the opposition parties against each other and against Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy as well. With the war of words heating up, the warring groups are keen to influence the Hindu sentiment.
Though Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy announced a CID probe into the recent incident, it has given the opposition enough ammo to launch a blitzkrieg against the ruling YSRCP. The opposition is finding fault with the probe panel, saying that it is headed by a Christian, thus questioning the impartiality of the CM, who follows Christianity himself.
The TDP is acting to the script by demonising Jagan Mohan Reddy as “a Hindu-hater” and it is keen to brand him as someone promoting religious factionalism in Andhra Pradesh. “A recent attack on a church was swiftly inquired into and the culprits were brought to book. Why has nobody been arrested in the Kodanda Rama temple incident?” asked the TDP, alleging that at least 130 temples have been attacked under the Reddy regime so far.
The TDP was quick to brand Andhra Pradesh as being “worse than Pakistan” in protecting the rights of Hindus. “The Pakistani police arrested 45 people for vandalising a Hindu temple, but, in Andhra Pradesh, the government has just woken up (to the incident).”
To buttress its point that the CM is a “Hindu-hater”, the TDP reminded how Jagan Reddy quietly buried the proposal of building a Venkateshwara temple (akin to Tirumala) at the new state capital Amaravati as proposed by the previous Chandrababu Naidu regime.
It also highlighted the selling of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam pooja tickets in ‘black’ by linking them with a chit fund company run by Endowments Minister Velampalli Srinivas.
For the BJP, which is keen to make its presence felt in Andhra Pradesh, the insult to the idol of Rama has come in handy. It has been making all the right noises to arouse Hindu sentiments with the tacit support of its central leadership. On Tuesday, it took out a rally at Ramateertham despite traffic restrictions and the imposition of non-bailable laws on illegal congregations.
The Jana Sena, led by flamboyant film star Pawan Kalyan, condemned the desecration of Rama’s idol and went hammer and tongs against the government’s decision to stop Janasena-BJP joint Ramateertha Dharma Yatra at Ramateertham on Tuesday. “The acts of house arrests and preventing peaceful rally are undemocratic. Protest is a feature of democracy and suppressing it is not acceptable,” said Kalyan.
Several Hindu religious mutts and associations have jumped into the controversy. Vedic scholar Sri Tridandi Srimanarayana Ramanuja Chinna Jeer Swamy is set to start a yatra from January 17 in protest against the series of attacks on temples. “If the attack were on a church or a mosque, there would have been a lot of hue and cry all over the world. Since the attack happened on a temple, the reaction is lukewarm,” the Swami alleged.
Chief Minister Jagan Reddy tried to defend himself by saying “the opposition is trying guerrilla warfare against the government”. Jagan said, “Even god is not spared in the game of politics. It is unfortunate the political rivals are involving gods to reap the benefits. It is like the climax of kalyug.”
The CM said it is for the people to know who would benefit from such acts of vandalism. “Why would an elected government, which is working overtime for the benefit of the public, resort to these vicious anti-social acts which would hamper the peaceful existence of the people?”
Jagan Reddy met governor Biswabhushan Haricharan on Wednesday (January 6) for close to an hour and discussed the situation in the state and the fallout of the Ramathreetha incident, paving the way for a CID probe.
The CM’s temple policy has been controversial right from the beginning. In June 2019, his decision to name his uncle and former MP YV Subba Reddy as chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Board, which governs the famous Sri Venkateshwara Temple drew the opposition’s ire. They used the opportunity to argue that the CM, whose family had adopted Christianity decades ago, had “diluted the temple trust.”
Subba Reddy, however, is a Hindu.