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Pleasing Gods With 'Tax Payers’ Money

Pleasing Gods With 'Tax Payers’ Money

The behavior and actions of our political leaders sometimes give the impression that they either lack common sense or they don’t care for propriety and constitutional norms. How can the Chief Minister of a state who has taken oath on the constitution of India blatantly violate a core value of the constitution? The NDTV News reported on 22nd February that Chandrasekhar Rao, the Chief Minister of Thelangana, offered an eye-popping array of gold ornaments worth 5.59 crores of rupees to Lord Venketteswara at Thirumala Thirupathi to "thank" the Gods for realizing his dream of establishing separate Thelangana state. Mr Rao had promised to lavish gold on Gods in both states if Telangana became a reality. "I have fulfilled my debt...both Telugu speaking states will do very well," he told reporters. But the cruel joke is that he used the tax payers’ money to fulfill his personal vow to gods. It was reported that a nose-stud worth Rs 45,000 was gifted to Goddess Padmavati.

The Chief Minister, his wife, daughter, grandchildren and their families and six sisters travelled by two special aircrafts for the thanksgiving trip to the temple town. After arriving at the airport on Tuesday, 21st February to Vedic chants, the contingent drove to the Balaji temple. Temple officials commented that no government had ever presented gold ornaments to the lord and that "a new era" has begun with KCR. The new era began with KCR seems to be a perversion of the constitution of India.

It appears KCR revels in pleasing gods with gold offerings, spending money from public exchequer. In April last year the Chief Minister had offered gold ornaments worth five crores of rupees from the exchequer to Lord Venkattesura of Thirumala.  In October, he presented an 11 kg gold crown worth over Rs 3 crore to the Goddess Bhadrakali at Warangal. In December 2015, the Chief Minister conducted Ayutha Chandi Maha Yagam to please the gods. The yagam took place at his 120 acre farmhouse at Erravalli village in Telangana’s Medak district.

Although activists have taken to him to the court in Hyderabad for wasting tax payers’ money to fulfill his personal vow to gods, K Chandrasekar Rao appears to be stubborn and insensitive. On 24th February he presented a gold moustache, weighing 20 grams and costing about   Rs.  70,000, to Kuravi Veerabhadra Swamy temple in Mahabubabad district. Last year he spent Rs. 50 crores on his official residence, filled with bullet-proof offices and bathrooms and movie halls.

The state Telangana was born after a lot of violence and bloodshed and the students and young people played a key role in the struggle for the creation of a new state from Andhra Pradesh. While moving a resolution to pay homage to the people who laid down their lives for the new state KCR said on 14th June 2014 that 1500 people died in the struggle for the creation of new state and 369 among them were students who died in police firing in 1969. All these people had a dream that the lives of the people in the Telangana region would have a bright future if a new stated was carved out Andhra Pradesh. Unfortunately, it seems that KCR forgot the sacrifices of the 1500 people and is focusing on his personal ambition and whims and fancies.

The saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is becoming true in the case of KCR. During the regime of kings they used to squander state finances to fulfill their whims and fancies while the people were starving.  It seems that KCR is also following the path of the despotic kings. It is reported that Telangana is witnessing unrest among young people who say KCR has failed on an important promise - delivering jobs. The unemployment rate in the state is about 7 per cent, against a national average of around 5 per cent. It also has a startling rate of farmer suicides. Instead of listening to the youth who demand job the KCR government is trying to suppress the democratic protest by the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC). According to UCAN news the TJAC had called for a rally at Dharna Chowk near Indira Park on Feb 22 to demand jobs for unemployed youth. At 3 am on the day scheduled for the rally, the police forcefully entered Prof. Kodandaram’s house and took him into preventive custody. The city police also took into custody hundreds of protesters at different places for trying to participate in the rally. All the detainees were let off by evening.

Squandering public money on erecting statutes is another mania of our political leaders to appease a particular section of the society and create vote bank. The Maharashtra government will spend 3600 crore rupees or $530 million on a memorial to 17th century Hindu warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji.   At 190 metres, it will be twice the height of America's Statue of Liberty and almost 40 metres taller than the world's current tallest memorial -- a statue of Buddha in China. Erecting gigantic statues to honour the historical figures appears to be an unwise way. Motivating people to follow the noble values of the historical figures is the right way to honour them. Biographies of these historical figures could be made available to the people, particularly to the youth at a very concessional rate.

  In a secular state like India the government is expected to play a neutral role in its relationship with different religions and it should not favour or disfavor any particular religion. By spending crores of rupees from the government exchequer for offering gold to the favourite deities of a particular religion KCR has violated the spirit of Indian Constitution. Secondly, he has misused public money to fulfill his personal vow to gods. As an individual he has the freedom to practice religion the way he wants and he is free to use his resource for this purpose, but not public fund. Thirdly, the constitution of India mandates its rules to create in the people of India scientific temper. Article 51A of the Indian Constitution includes a clause that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Appeasing gods by offering gold is not going to create scientific temper in the people. On the other hand this kind of practices only will fuel superstitions in the people and give momentum to commercialization of religion. 

There have been protests from the opposition parties and the civil society against the misuse of public money by KCR, but they appeared to be feeble. In a democracy people are the boss. They cannot be satisfied with casting votes and electing their representatives once in five years. Through protests and criticisms the people have to keep their elected representatives accountable and responsible. Eternal vigilance is the price that the people have to pay to keep democracy vibrant. The passivity and indifference of the people make leaders egoistic, arrogant and insensitive.

Often the people are misguided to agitate for issues that are harmful to themselves in the long run. The courts in India have banned certain sports which are detrimental to the animals as well as to people and fireworks of certain types that cause destruction to life and property. Vested interest groups sometimes play on the sentiments of the people and manipulate them.  This kind of manipulation and psychological blackmail can be prevented only through education on secular democracy.

A powerful group is trying to subvert secular democracy and introduce theocratic form of government in the country. Chief Ministers like KCR are knowingly or unknowingly playing into their hands. These are the indicators of the country slowly slipping into theocracy. Educational institutions, particularly high schools, can play an important role in educating the students about secular or pluralistic democracy. Students are to be encouraged to debate on various issues affecting the country and the functioning of secular democracy. 

#(Published on 06th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 10)