The Vijayawada version of 'Temple Run’ has been an eye opener for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. With officials demolishing close to 30 Hindu temples, five of them fairly big temples in Vijayawada in the last one week, Naidu is facing the combined wrath of his alliance partner, the BJP, organizations such as the VHP and the seers. It is a crisis that was Telugu Desam-made and is manifesting itself at different levels — political, religious and civic.
Keen to ensure smooth conduct of the Krishna Pushkarams to be held in mid-August in Vijayawada, in which 2 crore pilgrims are expected to visit the city, the Telugu Desam administration embarked on a road widening exercise around the famous Kanaka Durga temple. The government having learnt a bitter lesson from the Godavari Pushkaram tragedy in Rajahmundry in July 2015, where 29 pilgrims lost their life in a stampede, wanted to ensure enough road space around the ghats leading to River Krishna. In the process, the demolition squad flattened 30 places of worship, upsetting the Hindu community.
Among the 30 temples, the Seethammavari Padalu, Saneeswara Swamy and Dakshina Mukha Anjaneya Swamy temples are prominent places of worship in Vijayawada. The manner in which these temples were razed to the ground hurt the sentiments of the devout and drew a very sharp reaction from the seers.
"Chandrababu Naidu is behaving like Aurangzeb,’’ fumed Sri Sri Sri Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi Maha Swamy of the Visakha Sri Sarada Peetham, speaking to Firstpost from Rishikesh. "He is trying to woo the minority votes by insulting Hindus. God will teach such arrogance a lesson.’’
That the religious heads are making this into a Hindus versus a minorities-appeasing Naidu government is obvious. The seers have threatened not to cooperate during the religious part of Pushkaram unless Naidu apologises. Mahant Yamunadas Digambar of the Hanuman temple said, "They have no respect for Hindus and their sentiments. Elected representatives are behaving in an inappropriate manner."
Ironically, the BJP which is the Telugu Desam’s alliance partner in Andhra Pradesh, holds the endowments portfolio. Endowments Minister Manikyala Rao has however, washed his hands off any responsibility saying, "The proposed demolition of temples should have been duly notified and discussed with the temple trusts. But officials acted in haste."
Privately, BJP leaders say Rao is a powerless minister, whose word is not taken seriously in the government by the TDP. Though Rao has now been made the head of a five-member ministerial committee that will oversee the reconstruction of the 30 demolished temples, it is seen as an attempt to soothe ruffled feathers. The astute politician that he is, Naidu has realized that BJP which is not very strong politically in Andhra Pradesh, perhaps for the first time, has managed to push the TDP on the back foot by playing the Hindu card.
"Hindu sentiments have been badly affected by so many temples being demolished in one go," says senior BJP leader Kanna Laxminarayana. "It is difficult to believe that the CM was not aware of this. After all, he passes by that route everyday."
But the seers are not amused by this offer to reconstruct the temples. Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi says, "First of all, I am surprised that this has happened when a BJP-RSS man is in charge of Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh. Secondly, temples are built after elaborate rituals and pujas. This is not a shopping complex that you can demolish and rebuild.’’
TDP leaders in Vijaywada are annoyed at this muscle flexing by the BJP. Vijayawada MP K Nani angered the BJP even more when he equated the Vijayawada demolitions with bringing down of temples in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was CM there. That angered the saffron party even more, leading to a dharna in Vijayawada.
The war of words did not end there. TDP party leaders accused, "a few politically unemployed" of trying to create problems for their political survival. "We are not an anti-Hindu party,’’ says Narayana Prasad, Vijayawada TDP leader. "We are only trying to ensure Vijayawada is ready for the Pushkaram."
But as the TDP beats a retreat, promising not to touch any temple in Vijayawada by even an inch, the BJP is crowing. Relations between the two alliance partners have not been the best in recent times, with the Narendra Modi government being tight-fisted when it comes to releasing funds to Naidu to build the state's capital in Amaravati. The Vijayawada episode has shown the BJP’s ability to scale up a local civic issue and mobilize public opinion against the TDP government. And the comments on Modi by the MP, considered close to Naidu, show everyone is willing to punch above his weight.
Andhra, clearly is in political combat mode. The outcome will be Bhagwaan bharose.