Industrialists with political clout and ruling party leaders have been nominated as members of the expanded board of the prestigious Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), which manages the affairs of India’s richest temple.
Nearly three months after appointing his maternal uncle YV Subba Reddy as the TTD chairman, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has expanded the temple board, accommodating many of his old business associates, including YSR Congress Party (YRSCRP) leaders and industrial bigwigs recommended by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
The two chief ministers enjoy an excellent personal rapport and are on the same page on several political issues.
Before filling the coveted positions, Andhra Pradesh government last week increased the strength of the board from 19 to 29 without citing any specific reason behind the move. It is widely believed that the TTD board has been expanded to accommodate more aspirants close to the chief ministers of the two Telugu states.
The TTD trust board now has eight representatives from Andhra Pradesh, seven from Telangana, four from Tamil Nadu, three from Karnataka and one each from Delhi and Maharashtra.
Among the eight members from Andhra Pradesh, four are YSRCP MLAs. Three of the four MLAs nominated to the board are UV Ramana Murthy Raju from Elamanchili, Meda Mallikarjuna Reddy from Rajampet and K Parthasaradhi from Penamalur.
Of the seven members from Telangana, two industrialists are considered close to Chandrashekar Rao — Jupally Rameshwara Rao of My Home group, a real estate company, and Damodar Rao, a media baron and CMD of Telangana Publications Private Limited (TPPL).
The others from Telangana include Putta Prathap Reddy, who contested on an YSRCP ticket from an Assembly segment in Hyderabad in 2014 and lost, and Siva Kumar, who had registered the YSRCP with the Election Commission. The board also includes B Parthasaradhi, chairman of Hetero Drugs, a pharma company that faced investigation in one of the alleged illegal assets cases involving Jagan.
Former BCCI president N Srinivasan has also been made a member of the TTD board. Promoter of India Cements, Srinivasan was also questioned by the CBI in the past in connection with one of the cases involving Jagan. Along with him, Krishnamurthy Vaidyanathan, Dr. Nichitha Muttavarapu and MLA Kumaraguru have found place on the board from Tamil Nadu.
Sudha Narayana Murthy, writer and wife of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, retained her place on the TTD Board.
An elite club
The choice of nominees for the temple board has evoked criticism as the convenor of the Temples Protection Movement, a city-based NGO, and chief priest of Chilkur Balaji temple near Hyderabad, C S Rangarajan, lamented that the TTD has been packed with politicians and industrialists.
“It appears that this government is repeating the mistakes of erstwhile governments which had appointed liquor barons as chairmen of the TTD. We expected transparency but we are being let down again. There are many MLAs in the board which makes it a body full of politicians being rehabilitated,” Rangarajan said in a statement.
Adikesavulu Naidu, a liquor baron, was made the TTD chairman by the TDP government in 2003. Five years later, he was nominated for a second term as the chairman after he joined the Congress.
Controversy over faith
After Jagan’s uncle, Y V Subba Reddy, was appointed as the TTD chairman this June, a bitter row had broken out with the right-wingers questioning the chief minister’s Hindu credentials on social media.
Claiming that Subba Reddy is a Christian, they questioned how he can preside over the affairs of the world’s richest Hindu shrine. However, Reddy later clarified that he was a devout Hindu though he was married into a Christian family.
The faith of the person heading the Tirumala board often becomes a discussion point in Andhra Pradesh. As per the convention, the governments in the past, irrespective of the party in power, took care not to appoint atheists to the posts of the TTD chief and the chief executive officer (CEO) of Tirumala temple.
The appointment of Jagan’s family friend B Karunakar Reddy as the TTD chairman during 2005-09 had also triggered a similar controversy. Reddy, a close confidant of Jagan’s father and former chief minister of combined Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhar Reddy, had faced similar criticism because he was perceived to be “Christian-friendly” and an atheist.
Budget for 2019-20
Nestled amid a picturesque string of seven hills in Chittoor district, Tirumala attracts over 50,000 pilgrims a day from all across the country and even abroad. On festivals and special occasions, the inflow crosses one lakh mark. The temple receives offerings from devotees in the form of cash, jewellery, gold, silver, property deeds, and demat share transfers.
According to the budget proposals for 2019-20, the TTD expects an overall revenue of about ₹3,116 crore during the year. The income from hundi collections was alone projected at ₹1,231 crore and the revenue from the interest on deposits in nationalised and private banks was estimated to be about ₹846 crore.
The temple body expects ₹292 crore from sale of tickets for various forms of worship and another ₹270 crore from sale of laddu prasadam. Auction of human hair offered by the devotees as fulfilment of their vow is also a source of revenue and the temple expects to earn ₹10 crore from it.
The expenditure towards salaries to over 6,000 staff and outsourcing personnel and other commitments is expected to be ₹965 crore.