CHENNAI: DMK’s rationalist beginnings have always been used against the party. It has, however, always comfortably fought such campaigns. This time, the party picked up the gauntlet way before the elections and announced a host of initiatives for temples, priests, and devotees in its manifesto. BJP leaders had taken credit for the pressure they exerted and went ahead with the campaign but DMK’s TR Baalu rebuffed it and reiterated the party’s secular credentials.
Even on the campaign trail, the Chief Minister M K Stalin had reiterated that most of the party’s cadre were Hindus. After coming to power, one such party member P K Sekar Babu was given the charge of the sensitive department, another attempt to silence such criticisms. An ardent devotee of Lord Ayyappa and a regular visitor to the temples, Sekar Babu is purportedly well aware of the administrative functions of temples. He actively participates in the department’s affairs and visits temples across the State.
In about two months, the seemingly tepid department sprang to life and made headlines. The department has initiated about six major tasks till now, undermining the campaign against the party. Digitisation of temple records and retrieval of encroached temple lands are regarded as the two major initiatives aimed at bringing in transparency, which also a poll promise.
Seeking anonymity, a source in the department said that the activities of a former minister were confined just to his constituency. Tamil Nadu has more than 36,000 temples under the ambit of the department and 4,78,272 acres of land belong to these temples. In the last two months, the department has retrieved acres of land worth crores of rupees in cities, including Chennai and Coimbatore.
In one such exercise, the department has retrieved 32 grounds of land (worth Rs 160 crore) belonging to a temple in Kancheepuram Ekambareswarar Temple on Poonamallee High Road in the city. Seetha Kingston Matriculation Higher Secondary School that was functioning on the land was also taken over after the school authorities expressed their inability to run the institution. The department announced a name-change and its decision to run the school considering the future of around 700 students.
Similarly, the department increased the number of people it feeds every day through 754 temples from 56,000 to a lakh. Tamil Nadu BJP’s State media president A N Subramania Prasad welcomed the efforts.He, however, said that several initiatives have hidden intentions and has the potential to create confusions. “The government should ensure that the initiatives are taken without affecting the established practices, culture, and legacy of respective temples,” he said, seeking more transparency..
Another source in the department said that the minister has streamlined the works comprehensively by setting deadlines. Arun Kumar, an assistant professor in Mount Caramel College, Bengaluru, said that DMK has always brought out initiatives in favour of non-Brahmin Hindus belonging to OBCs and SCs.
Kumar said that the DMK’s present efforts have been amplified due to the influence of social media but the party has always been inclusive of temples and Hindus, referring to scores of initiatives brought out by former chief ministers Annadurai and M Karunanidhi.
1. Digitisation of property and asset records of temples
2. Online platform to file petitions and call centre (044-28339999) between 10 am and 6 pm for petitioners who are not comfortable using gadgets
3. Retrieval of encroached lands
4. Food for one lakh people till the number of Covid curve flattens
5. Plans to bring rope car facilities in four more temples located on hills
6. Opportunity for women to become priests
1. Streamlining the approval process for renovation of temples. Additional commissioner of IAS cadre to oversee process
2. To fill the various vacancies in temples across the State
3. Instructions given to officials to bring Tiruchendur and Palani temples on par with Lord Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati