Uttarakhand priests threaten to obstruct PM Modi's Kedarnath visit: What you need to know about controversy
The priests are opposing the formation of the Chardham Devasthanam Board, which is envisioned to be an umbrella body to regulate shrines and temples under its purview
Priests at the Kedarnath temple in Uttarakhand are irate and their ire is directed at the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules both at the Centre and in state, where it is due to face polls early next year.
The priests have already stopped former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat from entering the temple without getting darshan. They also protested against the visit of state BJP president Madan Kaushik and cabinet minister Dhan Singh Rawat. Now, they are threatening to obstruct Prime Minister Narendra Modi's scheduled visit if the government doesn't agree to their demands.
Why are they angry?
The priests are opposing the formation of the Chardham Devasthanam Board, which is envisioned to be an umbrella body to regulate shrines and temples under its purview. And Trivendra Singh bore the brunt of the priests' anger because the Board was created through legislation during his chief ministership.
What's the Chardham board at the centre of controversy?
The Chardham Devasthanam Board, which is chaired by the chief minister, controls the management of 51 temples in the state, including Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.
The Bill was tabled in the state Assembly in December 2019, was passed in the same month and a gazette notification was published on 15 January 2020.
The board was constituted with the chief minister as its chairman, state culture minister as Deputy Chairman, and chief secretary as ex-officio members along with other office-bearers.
Its main purpose is to consolidate control over the temple funds and properties and regulate the budgetary flow and expenditures. The Act says, “All properties belonging to Char Dham Devasthanams (religious places) to which this Act applies, on the date of commencement of this Act… stand transferred to the board. All assets vesting in the government, local authorities or persons aforesaid and all liabilities subsisting against such movement or persons on the said dates shall be devolved on the Char Dham and shall be maintained by the board.”
It also says the “board may further acquire land in or around the vicinity of the religious devasthanam and other places as it would deem proper for its better development in favour of the Char Dham”.
What's the issue?
The pilgrimage priests of the four Himalayan temples have been opposing the Chardham Devasthanam Board ever since it came into being during Rawat's tenure.
They feel the board is an infringement of their traditional rights over the temples and have been demanding its dissolution.
So far, many of these temples were managed by teerth priest committees, which had the right to utilise their funds for infrastructural development, renovation and upgradation of services for the pilgrims. However, their authority on temple funds has ceased to exist after the creation of the new board.
The priests also claim that the constitution of the board would mean that the government will hold the rights that were reserved for the servitioners up until now and yet they will be expected to fulfil their responsibilities as usual. The act forbids any part of the money in hundi to the pujaris while also not making any provision for any salary to them. The board can give directions to the priests and on not being followed, can remove them from their duties.
Besides this, the biggest objection has been to the clause that allows government to take control of the temple land and properties. Priests allege that the government will then hold control over their ancestral homes and can push them out anytime it wants.
Under the pressure of the priests, present chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had to constitute a committee headed by Manohar Kant Dhyani to hear all sides and find a solution.
The panel has submitted its interim report to the state government.
"We have come to the end of our patience on Devasthanam Board now. We were advised to remain patient at our meeting with Dhami on 11 September and we were following him. But we cannot remain silent anymore," Kedarnath teerth purohit Santosh Trivedi later told reporters.
"We have now decided to launch an aggressive agitation on the issue of Devasthanam board. Not letting Trivendra Singh Rawat visit the temple for a darshan was part of it," he said.
The teerth purohits also shouted anti-government slogans before cabinet minister Dhan Singh Rawat and Pradesh BJP president Madan Kaushik, who had arrived separately for darshan at the temple.
Meanwhile, Congress has been trying to corner the government on the issue. Commenting on Triverndra Singh's 'insult' by Kedarnath priests, Pradesh Congress vice president Dhirendra Pratap said, "You reap what you sow."
The protest by the priests comes just a few days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's forthcoming visit to Kedarnath on 5 November.
Modi is slated to inaugurate and lay foundation stone of reconstruction projects worth around Rs 400 crore at Kedarpuri during the visit.
It is not unlikely that a few more Congress defectors find place in the party's second list of 11 candidates, to be announced soon
The polling for Uttarakhand Assembly Election will take place in a single phase on 14 February, 2022 and the counting of votes will take place on 10 March, 2022
The date for scrutiny of the nomination papers is 29 January. The results of the Uttarakhand polls will be announced by EC on 10 March.