At the launch of the Andhra Pradesh government’s revamped health scheme called ‘YSR Arogya Asara’, Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy opened his speech with these lines. “The opposition is unable to digest the good governance being done by our government, and is making random accusations. They are talking about my religion and caste too. It upsets me to hear such remarks. I want to state on this platform that humanity is my religion, and fulfilling promises is my caste.”
The remark comes in the wake of a controversy over the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD)’s website, with media reports claiming that it contained ‘pagan propaganda’. The reports were based on claims that a Google search for a pdf of the TTD calendar showed the word ‘Yesaiah’ in the results, the Telugu name for Jesus Christ. But this is only the latest in a slew of controversies based on claims, especially by the BJP and right wing sympathisers, of a ‘threat’ to Hinduism from the Christian faith, ever since Jagan Mohan Reddy was sworn in as the Chief Minister six months ago.
Jagan’s family adopted the Christian faith many years back, with his great grandfather embracing the religion. Jagan founded the YSRCP in 2011 after his father and former CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s death, moving away from the Congress. While the party was defeated in the 2014 Assembly elections, in the lead up to the 2019 polls, Jagan was seen meeting with Hindu religious seers along with former Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu and Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao, in what was seen as an attempt to endear himself to Hindu voters. It has also been observed that while he continued to practice the Christian faith, he has attempted to make it visible to the public that he follows customs and practices of multiple faiths, especially of Hinduism. After his massive electoral victory in May, Jagan visited the Tirumala temple to offer prayers. He even visited the Hindu seers Sri Ramanuja Chinna Jeeyar Swamy and Swaroopananda Swamy of Sarada Peeth.
However, the controversies over his religion have not ceased, along with the fear-mongering that having a Christian CM poses a ‘threat’ to Hinduism and Hindu religious institutions. In August, the BJP alleged the Jagan had insulted Hindus by walking away from a lamp without lighting it, at an event in the United States. The YSRCP later pointed out that it was an electric lamp. In September, after the BJP claimed Jagan was ‘anti-Hindu’ for announcing a monthly honorarium for pastors, the YSRCP clarified that similar benefits were extended to Hindu priests and Muslim clerics. The Jagan government has also granted hereditary ‘archakatvam’ rights to Hindu temple priests, a promise made during his election campaign.
The BJP has also alleged that the sudden transfer of former Chief Secretary L V Subrahmanyam was done with ulterior motives, as Subrahmanyam had issued instructions about the voluntary transfer of non-Hindu employees in TTD, based on allegations of Christian conversions in Tirupati.
The TTD itself has been involved in several rows in the past six months. The BJP has not missed any opportunity to portray Jagan as ‘anti-Hindu’, while the YSRCP government has often responded in a defensive, retaliatory manner.
In August, following a controversy over advertisements Hajj and Jerusalem pilgrimages being found on the back of an Andhra Pradesh Road Transport Corporation (APSTRC) bus ticket, which was plying from Tirumala to Tirupati, an official was suspended for the fiasco. While the government initially stated that the tickets were printed during the previous TDP government's term, an employee who was found responsible was later suspended “for negligence and dereliction of duties”. It was also stated that his actions had caused "serious embarrassment to the government”.
In another row in September, a complaint was filed by the Legal Rights Protection Forum with the TTD and other government officials, after a few pages referring to Jesus Christ and Christianity were found in a e-book uploaded on the TTD website. The book was found to have been published years ago and uploaded on the website in 2015. Following the complaints, the TTD took down the book.
In the case of the latest Google search controversy, the TTD management has clarified that it was the term ‘sriye’ in a pdf document on their website that was wrongly transliterated as ‘sri yesaiah’. TTD Chairman Y V Subba Reddy, who also happens to be Jagan’s uncle, denied the allegations while lashing out at TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and media outlet Andhrajyothi for stirring up the 'conspiracy'.
The Jagan Reddy government has also been criticised for being biased to members of Jagan’s own caste. Although Jagan has insisted that his cabinet is inclusive, more than five members of the 25-member cabinet were from the Reddy community. Only one berth was given to the Kamma community to which former CM Naidu belongs. The YSRCP has also alleged that the TDP government had given preferential treatment to certain social groups, giving rise to ‘insider trading’ in land deals in the Amaravati project. After coming to power, the YSRCP government has been similarly criticised for preferential treatment to members of the Reddy community.
Though the controversies have come one after the other in the past few months, this is perhaps the first time that the Chief Minister has acknowledged them.