Ugly politics

Temples for Christian YSR

The sudden and untimely death of Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, no doubt sent shock waves across the state. For 24 hours since his whereabouts were not known there was anxiety across the state. The media went into a speculative spin. As his family owns a well circulated newspaper and a news channel, once the death was confirmed, emotions were built around his personality and work.

A section of the media including his own family media network claimed that more than 600 people died because of the shock or distress after YSR’s death and many of them were given some money the moment such deaths were reported in each constituency. Mostly, the minister of that constituency or MLA of the Congress party saw to it that a minimum of Rs 5,000 reached the family of the bereaved person.

Now there is a major controversy around these deaths. During his regime as the chief minister, the rich Reddy community benefited much more than any other community or class. But not a single rich Reddy died out of shock. His own family newspaper admitted that most of the deaths took place among the weaker sections and poor who badly needed even that Rs 5,000 for the expenses of their last rites. But that itself tells a sad story of the poverty levels of people in the state.
The other aspect is that if so many people died out of absolute affection for him, he rather assumes a divine role. So far no political ruler in India had acquired such a spiritual status. YSR will be the first to do so. Several Congress leaders declared that they would build temples for him.

The moot question is: why do enthusiastic Congress men want to build Hindu temples to YSR, who was a Christian by birth and also by practice? Though his religious background remained with his person in the realm of politics, people who know him say that his day’s work began with a Christian prayer. His wife, Vijayalakhshmi, is said to be a very devoted Christian. His son-in-law was doing evangelical work as he was said to have been a converted Christian. Though his family members did not sport Christian names, as Khushwant Singh rightly observed in one of his articles, that very Christian ethic must have pushed him to take up whatever welfare measures he worked out and implemented.

English medium education

YSR was very positive about English medium education to the poor in the government sector. He started around 6,500 English medium high schools braving opposition from the upper caste intelligentsia. There was a proposal to extend the English medium educational base to the primary level. His conviction for English medium education for all seems to have come from his Christian training.

The other important programme was Arogyasri, under which annually about Rs 180 crore was allocated to provide medically equipped ambulances to transport (one in each mandal) any patient to a nearby hospital. If a patient was a BPL-card holder, free treatment was offered even in corporate hospitals. Though there is a view that the corporate hospitals run by the rich industrialists were provided with a good patient inflow and a guaranteed payment by the state under this programme, the feeling among the villagers was that even the poor could go to rich people’s hospital and get free treatment. This programme had a lot of psychological effect on the villagers.

Thus, Rajasekhara Reddy’s personality evolved through a complex process of personal growth. He was born and brought in a faction ridden violent Rayalaseema feudal Christian. He was a rich Reddy and a committed Christian at the family level. For political purposes he used to visit Tirupati temple, as well as mosques and attend iftar parties. But his wife was never seen with him at Tirupati temple or iftar parties that he would attend year after year. However, unlike other chief ministers, he would take his wife for his swearing in ceremonies and make her sit on the dais. But I have not seen any other chief minister who was born and brought up in Hindu tradition doing even that.

The ‘Sakshi’ newspaper said that within a week of his death about 12,000 orders were placed with various sculptors in the state to make the statues of YSR and several statues were already installed — including a huge one at Warangal collectorate. The only Christian icon whose statues could so far be seen — that too here and there — is that of Mother Theresa. Hereafter YSR’s statues would be the largest in the state, if the present trend continues.

If the temple building starts as some Congress leaders have declared, it becomes a huge contradiction in spiritual terms. The big question is how can they build idol-centred Hindu temples for Christian YSR, whose religion does not believe in idol worship and temples? If at all they want to build something in his memory they should build YSR churches with no idols inside. But the Congress culture seems to make everything possible.

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