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Temple Run Ahead of Assembly Polls

An uncountable number of politicians across India visit temples of all Gods seeking divine intervention in their career.

Published: 23rd April 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2016 11:08 AM   |  A+A-

The moment Saradha-tainted Madan Mitra was renominated as a Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate by West Bengal Chief Minister and party supremo Mamata Banerjee, the former transport minister’s family wasted no time and rushed to a nondescript temple of Goddess Kali, around 250 km from the hustle and bustle of capital Kolkata. Madan, who is in jail for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam, is just one among an uncountable number of politicians across India who visit temples of all sizes and gods seeking divine intervention in their career—especially during elections.

From Banerjee to her counterparts Siddaramaiah in Karnataka, N Rangasamy in Puducherry, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Tarun Gogoi in Assam, Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, K Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana, N Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh to JD(S) supremo and former PM H D Deve Gowda, DMK treasurer M K Stalin, former Karnataka CM B S Yeddyurappa, Union minister and Assam CM hopeful Sarbananda Sonowal, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, and senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, all have their revered deities whose blessings they solicit before starting the race to their usually five-year licence to power or otherwise.

Templeb.jpgThe list got longer last month when the Election Commission announced polls to five state Assemblies as the belief system among ticket hopefuls and contestants got overworked. Move over big and known temples, lesser-known places of worship made their entry into the netas’ whirlwind campaign itinerary. The fear of losing an election and the five-year wait to get another opportunity to contest are what apparently lead the politicians to god’s door.

Though the famous Dakshineswar Kali is within Madan’s Kamarhati constituency, his family—after worshipping there—went to Maa Tara Temple, also known as Tarapith, in the Birbhum district to seek blessings.

There are several Kali temples in West Bengal, including the legendary ones at Kalighat and Dakshineswar, but the reason Tarapith is the most sought-after among politicians is because of its mystifying power and tantric tenacity. The special rituals to ensure defeat of rivals draw hopefuls of all hues. The devotees also visit the adjacent ‘Panchamundi mahasmashan’ (cremation ground) where tantra is performed with human skulls and liquor. Its soil is believed to bring good luck.

Scores of candidates—especially from the ruling TMC and BJP—have offered puja at Tarapith. Notable among them were higher education minister and TMC candidate from Behala West, Partha Chatterjee, and actor-turned-politicians Locket Chatterjee and Joy Banerjee, both contesting from Birbhum on BJP tickets.

Locket went to file her nomination after worshipping the goddess. “I have the blessings of Ma Tara and am confident of winning with the power bestowed in me by Her despite TMC violence,” she said.

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CM Banerjee is also an ardent Kali follower and holds puja at home every year. On the Bengali New Year day, which usually falls on April 14, she offers a special worship at the Kalighat temple, near her residence. “I will not campaign on that day as I will fast and then visit the temple to pray and seek Maa Kali’s blessings as I do every year,” she had announced.

The annual community Kali puja conducted by former state Congress chief and MP Somen Mitra, a nominee from Chowringhee, may attract visitors in lakhs, but his favourite is a relatively unknown ‘Thanthaney Kalibari’ in central Kolkata near his ancestral place.

In the national capital, Uttara Guruvayurappan Temple at Mayur Vihar—a replica of the famous Guruvayurappan Temple in Kerala—had caught the attention of politicians from the beginning as its foundation was laid in 1986 in the presence of former president R Venkataraman. Since then it has attracted names such as former PMs Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deve Gowda, former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, Congress leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sheila Dikshit, former President K R Narayanan, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P J Kurien, late Congress leader P M Sayeed, and BJP MP Mahesh Giri.

Dikshit has been a regular at all temple functions. “She used to do pujas like thulabharam where she would be weighed against sugar,’’ says Madhavan Nair, the temple executive committee president. She has also participated in annadahanam, where poor people are fed traditional lunch every noon.

Down south, politicians in Tamil Nadu, a state that reengineered its politics with the concepts of rationalism and fundamental atheism, have taken a curious turn on religious matters. While there are several examples of gods not remaining untouchable anymore among the state’s politicians, what caught the most attention was when DMK treasurer MK Stalin, son of famously atheistic leader of the party M Karunanidhi, paid a surprise visit to an ancient Vaishnavite Temple, Sri Sowmya Narayana Perumal Temple, in Sivagangai district last September.

For the party that prides itself as the fountainhead of Dravidian politics, led for decades by a leader who has made several stinging remarks on superstitions and even basic beliefs, it was an unusual visit to say the least. This is the same party founded by C N Annadurai who wrote a series of 24 articles in 1942 arguing that religion was an alien concept for the Tamil race till the Aryan invasion. Later, the DMK forced noted actor Sivaji Ganesan to quit after his visit to Tirupati.

Sources say Stalin went to the vimanam, the top of the structure where there now is a statue of Ramanujan, while his wife Durga offered prayers. Durga, incidentally, is a regular visitor to temples, including a nondescript one in North Chennai, the Murugan temple in Palani, ahead of all elections and important functions in the family.

Even when they profess absolute adherence to the principles of Dravidian patriarch ‘Periyar’ EV Ramasamy and Annadurai, most of the other Dravidian parties have already given a go-by to their atheism.

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DMDK founder Vijayakanth, a CM hopeful, is an ardent devotee of his family deity Veera Chinnamma Temple in Kangeyanatham village of Madurai. One day in February, the former actor rushed to the temple when the party was under a lot of pressure on alliance choices. Another shrine that he frequents is Sri Aandal Temple at Srivilliputhur in Virudhunagar, where he offers special prayers. In the western part of the state, the Hanuman temple at Namakkal is abuzz with activity that receives a large number of politicians as devotees, including Deve Gowda and his son H D Kumaraswamy.

The other lesser-known are Pillaiyarpatti Vinayakar and Palani Murugan temples that see devotees from politics in large numbers. The Murugan Temple at Thiruchendur these days draws almost all contestants from neighbouring Puducherry—from Chief Minister N Rangasamy,  PCC President A Namassivayam to Leader of Opposition V Vaithilingam and DMK South convener R Siva. “When people who follow an ideology defy it, it may lead to losing their credibility among the people,” says Arulmozhi, advocate and the propaganda secretary of Dravidar Kazhagam.

In Puducherry, the little-known 19th century seer Appa Paithiyam Swamy is Rangasamy’s go-to god. The CM, who is contesting to retain his position, is joined by a good number of party colleagues and the ones from the opposition in reverence to the seer.

Believe it or not, the 65-year-old AINRC leader is now said to be awaiting a ‘positive signal’ from his guru, who attained samadhi in 2001, for his alliance decision. “Rangasamy believes that the guru will let him know whether he should forge an alliance or contest alone,” says an AINRC insider.

Rangasamy, who attributes his political success to his guru’s guidance, turns to his samadhi at the Appa Paithiyam Samy Temple near Salem and takes all decisions after ‘communicating’ with him. The CM constructed a temple for his guru in Puducherry in 2013, where he has been offering puja and annadanams. His ascendance in politics has apparently led his opponents to the guru’s abode. “I met the seer and have been a devotee since my school days. Now all I pray is for Congress to return to power,” says 48-year-old Namassivayam.

Singirikudi Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swami Temple at Abisekapakkam is another place where Puducherry hopefuls seek divine blessings. Sources ascribe the political fortunes of Union minister V Narayanasamy of the Congress and many others to their visits to the temple. They say P V Narasimha Rao, who visited the temple when he was the Union home minister, went on to become the PM.

Moreover, politicians from Puducherry go as far as Mookambika Temple in Karnataka’s Kollur to offer prayers to Goddess Durga. Narayanasamy and former DMK CM R V Janakiraman are said to have emerged victorious after their worship.

In Karnataka, Siddaramaiah chose to lose his atheist tag after he became the CM in 2013. The Congress leader surprised everyone when he stopped for 10 minutes at Kalasthawadi on Mysuru-Bengaluru Highway to offer puja at Anjaneya Swamy Temple to counter Nara dosha, often described as a nerve weakness. He regularly visits mutts, showing clear signs of departure from his atheist past. “I go to temples, attend pujas with family members. But, I don’t go to temples in far-off places in the Himalayas,” the CM said, during the Siddarameshwara Jathra in Siddaramanahundi, his native village in Mysuru. Siddaramaiah did not visit temples in the past unless his post demanded.

Devotion is believed to have turned the political fortunes of many in the state. An ordinary employee of Indian Telephone Industries to a powerful minister in the S M Krishna cabinet, A Krishnappa used to give the credit of his successes in poll battles as much to a Ganesha deity at an unknown temple in KR Puram in Bengaluru as to the electorate. For Krishnappa, who later switched his loyalty to Deve Gowda, a puja by placing his nomination papers at the temple was mandatory before heading to file them.

Deve Gowda and his family’s fear of god is legendary. They never do anything without visiting four temples in their hometown and consulting their astrologers. They often offer special prayers at Lakshminarasimha Temple in Holenarasipur town, Ranganatha Temple on the hills of Mavinakere betta, Deveshwara in his native place Haradanahalli and Kodanandarama Temple at Paduvalahippe in Holenarasipur taluk. Even the nomination papers are distributed to the candidates only after the chief priest of Lakshminarasimha Temple has performed special pujas in the name of each candidate.

In election times, former CM and sitting MP of Shivamogga, B S Yeddyurappa, is known for seeking blessings from the presiding deity at Lord Huchuchuraya Swamy (Anjaney) Temple in Shikaripura as also Raghavendra Swamy in the same town. The controversial BJP leader also regularly offers puja to Yedyuru Siddalingeshwara and Veerabhadra Swamy.

In God’s Own Country, netas keep the faith with their own gods. Senior BJP leader O Rajagopal, a veteran of many election battles, invariably begins his daily campaigns by doing a quick tour of all the local temples. The former Union minister is fighting his latest poll battle from Nemom, where he had lost in 2011.

Cricketer and political debutant Sreesanth, BJP candidate from Thiruvananthapuram, launched his campaign on Easter Sunday by offering prayers at the Pazhavangadi Ganapathi Temple.

In far-east Assam, where the BJP is hopeful of wresting power from CM and octogenarian Congressman Tarun Gogoi, how can the political battlefield be devoid of contests for gods’ favour? The party’s CM candidate Sarbananda Sonowal, whose fate was locked in the April 4 elections, visited Dakhinpat Xatra near the Brahmaputra bank in the world’s largest sweet water island Majuli, a day ahead of filing nomination.

At the Vaishnavite socio-religious institution, he walked into the Manikut (temple of the Xatra), and genuflected before the god. When Sonowal rose from his prayer after a while, the priest gave the candidate his blessings.

“May God fulfil your wishes! Our wishes are always with you,” the priest uttered as Sonowal returned the gesture with a namaskar and `501 as dakshina. Later, he said, “I want to protect your island and the Xatras. I strongly believe in god and I can do that.”

Kamakhya and a cluster of satellite temples atop the Nilachal hill in Guwahati, Mahamaya Temple in western Assam’s Dhubri district, Shivadol (Sivasagar) and Tilinga temple (Tinsukia) in eastern Assam are abuzz with their political devotees.

Former Congress minister and now BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma is a regular at Kamakhya. Till 2014, when he was a minister in the Gogoi government, Sarma used to also perform yagna at Bogola temple, a Kamakhya satellite and a major tantric centre. Kamakhya falls under Sarma’s Jalukbari constituency that went to polls on April 11. Locals say he came to seek the blessings of Goddess Kamakhya before filing nomination. His bete noire Gogoi too is a visitor there. The CM also goes to the namghars. A few months ago, he offered prayers at the Athkhelia namghar. “They visit at least three-four times a year. Some send their wives and other family members to offer pujas,” says a priest at Kamakhya.

In distant Telangana, it has been an old habit for the CM to visit the nondescript Lord Venkateswara Swamy Temple in Konaipalli village of Medak district. During polls, KCR files his nomination papers after placing them at the feet of Lord Balaji. Actor-turned-TDP politician Nandamuri Balakrishna, son of late CM N T Rama Rao, too goes to Sugooru Anjaneya Swamy Temple near Hindupur town with his nomination papers. Nandamuri’s party president and CM N Chandrababu Naidu never files nomination papers on his own. Last time, his son Nara Lokesh filed them on behalf of Naidu from Kuppam seat in Chittoor district, but after performing puja at Varadaraja Swamy Temple there.

Indrakeeladri, the abode of goddess Kanaka Durga at Vijayawada, witnesses heavy turnout of VVIPs. In January, Governor E S L Narasimhan offered a special puja.

In 2014, when Nagpur South West MLA Devendra Fadnavis was chosen by the BJP as CM of Maharashtra, he went to offer prayers at Ganesh Tekdi Temple in the Orange City before beginning his innings in the top seat.

His political ally Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray too went to the Ekvira Devi Temple in Lonavala with the party’s all 63 MLAs after the polls. His father, the late Bal Thackeray, had paid a similar visit to the temple in 1995.

In July last year, Fadnavis’ Rajasthan counterpart Vasundhara Raje secluded herself in the famous Devi Bagalamukhi Temple at Pitambara Peeth in Datia, Madhya Pradesh, for almost three days and performed a special puja. She was then under heavy opposition fire for her alleged links with tainted cricket czar Lalit Modi.

The temple is known to be frequented by politicians going through a bad phase. Lalu Prasad, who faced the fodder scam heat, too had offered special prayers here. Union ministers Uma Bharti, Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, BJP MPs Varun Gandhi and Prabhat Jha, Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, Suresh Pachouri and MP Jyotiraditya Scindia have been visitors.

Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and wife Sadhna Singh are also the followers of the goddess, and his Chhattisgarh counterpart Raman Singh has attended rituals for the recovery of wife Veena Singh from illness.

Similarly, Mata Bagulamukhi Temple in Himachal Pradesh is also visited by a large number of politicians, who pray for victory over enemies through ‘tantric paath’. Former Samajwadi Party leaders Amar Singh and Jaya Prada are reported to have visited the temple. True, god is the first and last resort of politicians.

With Arup Chanda, Gopu Mohan, Cithara Paul, Debjani Dutta, Prasanta Mazumdar, Tiki Rajwi, Meera Bhardwaj, J R Prasad



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