Among the highlights from DMK’s manifesto announced on March 13, Saturday, is the party’s proposal to set aside funds for Hindu devotees wishing to go on a religious pilgrimage. The party, under the sub-head ‘Religious tourism fund’ in the manifesto, has said that an annual selection of upto one lakh Hindu devotees would be funded with Rs 25,000 each to travel to any one of the famous pilgrim temples such as Rameswaram, Kasi, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Tirupathi, Puri Jagganthar, etc. This scheme will be executed under Tamil Nadu Tourism Department, it added. The manifesto also says that the DMK would allocate Rs 1000 crore exclusively for the renovation of Hindu temples, especially the ones in villages where renovations are long pending.
Given that the DMK is a party founded under ideals of secularism, with the Dravidian movement strongly espousing the anti-religion way of life, this announcement has led to sharp reactions from many quarters. Critics have alleged hypocrisy on the party’s side. Sources in the party however pointed out that the formation of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, to bring temples under the control and administration of the state, is an important facet of the Dravidian movement. And funding temples and religious activities therefore, they said, is part of the government’s job.
On being asked about this special attention given to Hindus in their Manifesto, DMK MP Tiruchi Siva told reporters that the manifesto has promises for all people in the state. “Every issue of every person has been given importance. Importance has been given to every issue in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
The discussion also comes at a time when Isha Yoga Founder Jaggi Vasudev’s statement that, “temples were brought under control of the government for their revenue”. BJP’s National General Secretary of Goa, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu CT Ravi in response had tweeted, “Once BJP comes to power in Tamil Nadu, we will liberate our Temples from the clutches of Government. Devotees will be allowed to manage Temples as per Shastras.”
BJP’s Narayanan Tirupathi told TNM that the DMK’s concern for temples is a “joke”. “It is a total lie and fraud on Hindu people. The money for all temples is from the HR&CE Board which comes from the devotees. What is the government’s role here? HR&CE Department is full of corruption. We want the government to get out of temples. Temples and devotees don’t need the government's attention. Revenue comes from devotees,” he said.
Narayanan claimed, “People know DMK is anti-hindu and by means of the manifesto, they are trying to show that they are pro-Hindus.”
However, in an interview with the TNM earlier, DMK leader P Thiaga Rajan said the argument that money from temples is used to subsidise governments is bogus. “The claim that money from Hindu temples is used to subsidise secular governments is completely false. In fact every year, the government, which by Constitution is a secular government, allocates hundreds of crores to the HR&CE department, it is intended as a cost of preserving our cultural heritage left to us by our forefathers,” he said.
Other religion-based proposals
In addition to the religious tourism, the manifesto has many pointers under the section of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department. This includes:
> Cable-car facilities at hill temples such as Tiruttani, Sholingar, Thiruneermalai, Trichy Malaikottai, Tiruchengode, etc
> Increasing green cover on the Tiruvannamalai pathway around the hills and maintenance of temple structures.
> A centre in Vadalur for Vallalar devotees.
> Rs 200 crore allocation for the renovation of mosques and churches are some of its other points.
> The party has also proposed to develop tourism in sacred towns such as Palani, Tiruttani, Tiruvannamali, Tiruvarangam, Tiruchendur, Rameswaram, Kanyakumari, Chidambaram, Nagapattinam, Coutralam, Nagore, Velankanni and Vadalur by establishing better bus connectivity and good quality accommodations.
> As for temple priests, especially for those in villages coming under Pujari welfare scheme (started during DMK’s rule), a monthly salary of Rs 2000 will be given. Pensions too will be increased from Rs 3000 to Rs 4000.
> DMK’s manifesto also adds that about 205 persons belonging to different castes, who underwent training to become priests and are awaiting their appointment, will be appointed as priests in temples as soon as DMK comes to power.
The 2006 government order during the tenure of M Karunanidhi as Chief Minister allowed persons belonging to any caste the right to become a temple priest in the state. Until then, priesthood in Hindu temples remained exclusive to Brahmins. The beginning of this order however started way back in 1970 when Karunanidhi led DMK made amends to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act to allow appointments of priests.