Intense lobbying is underway in the YSRCP, which swept the Andhra Pradesh polls last month, as Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy will soon take a key decision. The lobbying is not for a Cabinet post, but a position equally coveted if not more; the chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Trust Board.
The TTD, which governs the Sri Venkateswara temple atop Tirumala in the state, consists of IAS officers, administrators and political appointees, who coordinate with archakas (priests) and oversee the richest Hindu temple in the world, by functioning like a mini-government. Last week, a meeting of the board witnessed an ugly scene as senior officials including Executive Officer (EO) Anil Kumar Singhal and Joint Executive Officer (JEO) Sreenivasa Raju stormed out, even as Chairman Putta Sudhakar Yadav, a leader of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), refused to voluntarily resign from his post.
As per the norm, TDP appointees to the board will have to resign and fresh faces will be picked by the YSRCP as it has formed the government.
So who is in the race?
The Chairman's post comes with a lot of perks. Besides being a state Cabinet rank, the appointee also get to rub shoulders with top politicians and VIPs like Governors, judges and businessmen. There are three names presently doing the rounds in party circles â€“ Bhumana Karunakar Reddy, Manchu Mohan Babu, and YV Subba Reddy.
Karunakar Reddy is banking on his past experience as he has already held the post for two years, after the Congress government made him the Chairman of the TTD in 2006. He contested the Lok Sabha elections from Tirupati in 2009 and subsequently lost to Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi, who had floated the now-defunct Praja Rajyam Party (PRP).
He soon shifted loyalties to the YSRCP after its formation, and has now bagged the Tirupati MLA seat after campaigning extensively in the temple town and assuring locals that he would address all their concerns.
"While Karunakar may be fit for the job, Jagan may pacify him by making him the Endowments Minister, as he has already served a brief stint as Chairman," a retired senior bureaucrat who works closely with the Endowments department told TNM.
The next contender, Mohan Babu, the popular actor-turned-politician, had launched a tirade against Chandrababu Naidu and had joined the YSRCP ahead of the polls, to campaign for the party in Chittoor district. A former MP, an actor-producer who has starred in more than 500 films, a noted educationist and a Padma Shri recipient, Mohan Babu enjoys massive support, especially in the Rayalaseema region and Chittoor district, which he hails from. He has also established the Sri Vidyanikethan Educational Trust in the region.
When he had joined YSRCP, sources had said that while it was too late to field Mohan Babu in the polls, he was likely to be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. But with the actor-politician reportedly expressing his wish to be appointed to the TTD, it has complicated matters. There is also family at stake as Mohan Babuâ€™s son, Manchu Vishnu, is married to Jaganâ€™s cousin, Viranica Manchu.
However, it seems that some internal discussions have taken place and Mohan Babu may not be given the post. Taking to Twitter on Wednesday, he said, "I have been reading the news and getting calls that I am in the race for TTD Chairman post. My ambition was to see Jagan as the CM, and I worked towards it and contributed my bit. I came back to politics because of my belief in Jagan as peopleâ€™s CM and not for any posts or nominations."
The third contender for the post, perhaps the most difficult for Jagan to navigate around, is former MP YV Subba Reddy, who is also the YSRCP chief's maternal uncle.
Subba Reddy's aides have already begun reminding reporters that the senior leader had resigned his Lok Sabha seat on Jagan's instructions when the party protested on Special Category Status (SCS) being denied to the state. Despite this, the Ongole MP ticket was denied to him and given to a TDP defector, Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy. At the time, the aides claim that Jagan had promised Subba Reddy the TTD Chairman's post and it seems that the party will most likely concede to the demand.
Archakas make moves
The archakas aren't beyond politics either as reports suggest that former chief priest Dr AV Ramana Deekhsitulu, who was unceremoniously forced to resign after he levelled shocking allegations of financial irregularity against the TTD, also met with Jagan earlier this week. He urged the Chief Minister to scrap the TTD order which had decreased the retirement age for archakas, thereby forcing him to give up his post.
'Dollar' Seshadri, another senior archaka, who was involved in the infamous case of alleged misappropriation of 300 five-gram gold coins from the TTD's treasury in 2006, is also said to be lobbying with YSRCP leaders who are close to him, including actor-politician and party MLA Roja Selvamani. Roja, who may be inducted into the Cabinet, and Seshadri, may have a say in the members appointed to the Board, if not the Chairman itself.
During 2019-20, the TTD expects an overall revenue of about Rs 3,116 crore, including Rs 1,231 crore from offerings and Rs 846 crore from interest on deposits in nationalised and private banks. The temple is said to have over Rs 12,000 crore in fixed deposits in various banks.