Tamil Nadu Finance Minister P.T.R. Palanivel Thiagarajan, an ardent devotee of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai, has dismissed as “nonsense” the demand from certain quarters for freeing temples from the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department.
“Random people make random noise. These are the people who want to break the goodwill of society,” he told The Hindu in a recent interview. Asked about the demand made by certain persons, including Isha Yoga Centre founder Jaggi Vasudev, he said, “In the case of Jaggi, he is a publicity hound who is trying to find another angle to make more money.” Those making the demand have contended that temples should be run by “bhaktas” (devotees).
“Will a godman, who is focused on god, be selling Sivarathiri tickets for ₹5,00,000, ₹50,000 and ₹5,000? Is that a sign of a man of god? Is that the identifying mark of a spiritual man? He is a commercial operator pretending to use god and religion to get help,” Mr. Thiagarajan alleged.
The Minister’s grandfather P.T. Rajan was the Chief Minister of the Madras Presidency and leader of the Justice Party, which was instrumental in creating the HR&CE Department. When a fire broke out at Sabarimala and the Ayyappa idol was destroyed, P.T. Rajan presented a new idol that is still in the temple.
Mr. Thiagarajan said HR&CE Minister P.K. Sekar Babu had announced that he would investigate what was going on at the Isha Yoga Centre in Coimbatore. “He will investigate whether there are violations or issues. There are some serious issues he is seeing in the CAG report. He will look into them,” he said.
The Minister rejected the suggestion that temples be run by devotees, contending that the temples were built by emperors and kings. “Who do they belong to? You say give it to the bhaktas. Forget whether it is right or wrong. Which bhakta will I give it to?”
Mr. Thiagarajan explained the difficulties in constituting a committee to manage the temples and electing members for it.
“Who will create a committee? Who will decide the eligibility criteria for electing a member to the committee that is going to manage [the temples] outside the government? Only from the village where the temple stands or from outside?”
“For example, whether a bhakta, who was born in Madurai and is a great Meenakshi devotee but is living in Chennai, eligible for it?” he asked.
He also pointed out that when a temple was taken out of government control, there was also a need to register it as a separate entity. “That entity will be registered as what? A trust or society because it should exist within some legal framework. Who will regulate it? Who will audit it? How will you elect members of the board? Will the members elected to the committee be permanent till they die? Who is eligible to be taken as board members?” he asked.