RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s demand that the operating rights of Hindu temples should be handed over to Hindus and their wealth should be utilised only for the welfare of Hindus is a misconceived and mischievous idea, aimed at political control and not any better management of temples. Though the RSS claims to be a cultural organisation, its core is religion and its operating system is political.
The demand for management of temples by Hindus is driven by the idea that control of temples would give it and its allied organisations access to and sway over the minds of devotees. There are countless temples in India, big and small, and the expectation may be that they could serve as nodal political points for organisations that claim to represent Hindus. That is misuse and exploitation of the religious sentiments and devotion of the people. In any case, Hindus have not given any organisation or person the right to speak for them.
It is significant that Bhagwat said temples in South India are fully controlled by state governments. It so happens that Sangh Parivar organisations have not been able to gain dominance in the South, and it may not be an accident that a campaign to “free” temples from government control was launched in Tamil Nadu before the Assembly elections there earlier this year. There is no case for governments to exit from managing temples and for handing them over to “devotees”. In many cases, temples have been traditionally managed by governments -- in olden times by kings, later by the British government, and still later by state governments, and administered by their representatives. When governments took over temples, it was because they were mismanaged by their owners — individuals, families or private institutions – or to overcome the caste barriers to temple entry. The management of temples by governments is done under relevant laws, and their right to do so have been upheld by courts.
At the practical level, it is not clear who the “devotees” are to whom the temples have to be handed over. How are they to be identified? If governments step back, powerful and vested private interests will take over the temples. Some temples are very rich and will attract people who will make a business of them. It is also likely that some wrong and regressive social practices and customs that once prevailed in temples will come back. Some of these social evils and attitudes are already finding a resurgence in society. Bhagwat’s demand should be seen in that context. If indeed he wants temples to be privatised, perhaps he should begin by asking the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to begin with the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple.
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