Sanchaita Gajapati was made chairperson of the Simhachalam Devasthanam, her uncle and former minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju has opposed it.

Why cant a woman head temple trust Sanchaita Gajapati counters row over her appointmentImage: Facebook/Sanchaita Gajapathi
news Controversy Sunday, March 08, 2020 - 15:27

The appointment of Sanchaita Gajapati, granddaughter of Simhachalam Trust founder Pusapati Vijaya Rama Gajapathi Raju, as the chairperson and hereditary trustee of the Simhachalam Devasthanam, has kicked up a political row in Andhra Pradesh. Through her appointment by the government, Sanchaita has replaced her uncle and former Union Civil Aviation Minister, Ashok Gajapathi Raju.

He has alleged that Sanchaita, who is also a national executive member of the BJP, was appointed as per a political vendetta by Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.

Sanchaita belongs to the royal Vizianagaram family. She is the daughter of Anand Gajapathi Raju, elder brother of Ashok. She was born to Anand and Uma, the couple later divorced. 

The Simhachalam Devasthanam manages more than 100 temples including the Varahalakshmi Narasimha temple, located close to Vishakapatnam, which is one of the largest temples in the state.

Besides being appointed as the chairperson of Simhachalam Devasthanam, she is also the new head of Maharaja Alak Narayana Society of Arts and Science (MANSAS) trust, which runs 12 educational institutions in Andhra Pradesh.  This is the first time in the history of the royal family that a woman is heading the Simhachalam Devasthanam.

On March 3, she was made the chairperson of both Simhachalam Devasthanam and MANSAS, without his knowledge, alleges Ashok.

A Government Order (G.O) was issued on Tuesday evening and she was sworn-in the very next day. The G.O is not in public domain, which Ashok calls it a “non-transparent” political move by the Jagan-led government. Though a G.O. was issued on February 20, appointing Ashok as the chairperson and his subsequent swearing-in on February 29, the  event was cancelled abruptly. Sources in the YSRCP however maintain that the appointment was not sudden and that Sanchaita had given a representation to the CM months ago.

This development of dethroning the former union minister, has led to a malicious campaign against Sanchaita by her rivals. Photos of her visiting the Vatican city have been dug out and shared online, claiming that she is a practicing Christian and therefore ineligible to head the temple. Her uncle, Ashok Gajapathi Raju too insinuated that she could be a Christian, as he said that the reporters should “check her Aadhaar card” for clarification.

Responding to this, Sanchaita told TNM, “I am deeply disappointed and disgusted with this slander campaign. I didn’t expect this type of attack from TDP, which I respect as a party because of its founder NT Rama Rao.” She added that pictures of her visit to the Vatican from 2017 were being circulated. "I have taken a picture like any tourists at any Vatican would do. I have also met the Dalai Lama. So what?".

Ashok Gajapathi Raju was the Union Minister in the Modi cabinet until March 2018, when the TDP was in alliance with the BJP. However, when the ties snapped between both the parties over ‘Special Category Status’ to Andhra Pradesh, he had resigned from the post.

Ashok took over MANSAS trust and was nominated as the chairperson of Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Simhachalam, after the demise of Sanchaita's father in 2016. Since then, a legal battle over property litigation has been ongoing between Sanchaita and the Gajapathi Raju family members.  “Before even my father’s ashes cooled down, Mr Ashok had taken over the post,” Sanchaita alleged.

Calling the appointment of Sanchaita as chairperson of Simhachalam trust illegal, Ashok said that only a male heir could head the trust. However, the young woman, has called these claims a “regressive view.”

“The archakas (priests) have no objection to my nomination and have blessed me. I will fulfill my role with all sincerity. The idea that women shouldn’t head trusts are regressive patriarchal views which need to go. They don’t want to change the status quo,” she said. 

Speaking about how she would take forward the trust, she said, “I will bring in educational reforms and modernize the education system. Already we have some of the best people in our trust who are innovators in the field of education, who have designed curriculums for Bhutan etc. So we will bring the best practices in the field and offer the best education which would be on par with any global teaching methods.”

To those dismissing her as “young woman,” she said, “Young people are bringing in the change. It is time people shun these archaic ideas. They are stuck in the past. I am a Google Global Impact Challenge India winner for my project on clean water and sanitation. I have already proved my merit to take up the responsibility.”

On Saturday, addressing the media, Ashok said that he will challenge Sanchaita’s nomination in court. However, Sanchaita claims that there is nothing wrong in her nomination. “I gave my legal representation to the government at least four months ago and they obliged.” Sanchaita said that her uncle is unnecessarily giving a political colour to her elevation.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the BJP Andhra Pradesh unit, issued a show-cause notice to Sanchaita for keeping them in the dark and taking up the responsibility as the chairperson and hereditary trustee of Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple in Simhachalam. The BJP asked her to explain her actions.

The Legacy 

Pusapati Vijaya Rama Gajapathi Raju was the founder trustee of the Simhachalam Devasthanam. Vijaya Rama donated thousands of acres of land for the temple. The male members of the family were hereditarily trustees and chairpersons of the devasthanam traditionally since 1713.

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