Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
A week ago, Telangana CM Chandrasekhar Rao offered gold jewellery worth Rs. 5-crore to the Tirumala temple in Andhra Pradesh. His visit was to complete a “vow” which he had made during his campaign for a separate state of Telangana. He had pledged gold and other ornaments to various gods and goddesses in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh if his campaign succeeded.
It was the beginning of a gift-giving spree. Strangely, the gifts were only for divine beings and politicians (i.e., themselves) and not for the people.
Where did the money come from?
Rao offered Rs 5 crore worth gold ornaments and nose-studs to the temple. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, the offerings came from the state exchequer and taxpayers’ money, part of the Common Good Fund.
The money for the ornaments was sanctioned from the Endowments Departments through a notice given on 24 February 2015.
Only two days after this, Rao donated a ‘bangaru meesalu’ (gold moustache) costing around Rs 75,000 at another temple.
And today, the Chief Minister moved into a nine-acre estate in Hyderabad worth nearly Rs 50 crore in Hyderabad. Furthermore, office-cum-residence bungalows are being built for all MLAs. These will be constructed in their constituencies within a 500-square-yard area.
This project will be for all 117 MLAs and will cost Rs 1 crore each.
A history of extravagance
This is not the first time that such a huge amount of public money has been spent towards religious donations. CM Rao’s religious extravaganza has a long history. The Chief Minister had presented an 11.7-kg gold crown worth over Rs 3-crore on the occasion of Durga Puja to a Warangal temple during Navratri celebrations in October last year. In December 2015, he conducted a religious ceremony at his 120-acre farmhouse.
All of these were organised at a time when the state was reeling under severe drought and farmer suicides were rising.
CM Rao’s priorities
Documents shared by Warangal-based farmers’ rights activist Kondal Reddy show how the Rao government has very damaging priorities.
Two Government Orders (GO), both from the Revenue Department of the state government, portray outrageously different scenarios.
The first GO is from the Revenue (DA-CMRF) Department. It is dated 29/10/2015. It highlights the fact that the state government has been unable to dispense financial compensation for the families of farmers who committed suicide due to reasons like drought, crop failure, inability to repay loans etc. The Telangana government has committed itself to giving Rs 6-lakh to such families. The GO in question is evidence for how less than Rs 1.5-lakh has been dispensed of that Rs 6-lakh for each of the suffering families.
The second GO is from the Revenue (Endowments) Department. It is dated 24/2/2015. It greenlights the CM’s wish to donate Rs 5-crore to the temple in Tirupati.
To put that in perspective, the Telangana government has Rs 500-lakh for temple donations but is unable to repay the remainder of Rs 4.5-lakh to the farmers’ families.
The donation to Tirupati has been completed; the families desperate for the monetary compensation promised to them remain desperate.
These are families which have lost their main source of livelihood, must find ways to educate the children, pay for everyday expenses while managing to repay outstanding loans even as the interest on these loans continue to increase.
Why the Chief Minister was very wrong
The Revenue Department of the state government does not operate with private investment or FDI. It operates with public money, with taxpayer-provided funds. It is our money that has been used to donate jewels to a temple. It is our money which is not being used to aid farmers’ families – and too with compensation promised to them by the government.
Furthermore, whatever be your opinion on Rao or Tirupati, there can be no doubt whatsoever that India’s farmers are undergoing a crisis and are being ignored by all of us. We – the Government and the electorate – need to empathise with them, try to understand their plight, and debate measures which can alleviate the farmers’ position.
Not just Hinduism, but any religion
Before people resort to whataboutery and paint this issue in a communal colour, let it be made clear that this is an issue that is unique to neither Telangana nor Tirupati.
The issue is the Telangana government’s extravagant expenditure on a temple. The problem, however, is much larger than that. The problem is the misuse of funds by the government on unnecessary, contentious or inappropriate measures.
Donating Rs 5-crore to a temple is unnecessary. If there is a god, s/he would appreciate a government that rushes to aid the poor and the farmers over a government that rushes to heap idols with nose-studs and ornaments.
Image Source: ndtvimg
Additionally, there is the argument of secularism – that it is crucial for a government to separate itself from religious matters. And this is as valid an argument when it comes any subsidies or any government donation to any religious institution.
Government subsidies given to religious pilgrimages highlight the strange nature of Indian secularism – which is essentially cooperation between State and religious institutions instead of separation of the same. This enables an environment where religious institutions like temples, churches, and mosques interfere with and corrupt governance.
This fosters minority and majority appeasement and vote bank politics. Politicians are unwilling to condemn subsidies on pilgrimages as they present them with a unique opportunity to communalise the electorate. Eventually, it is counterproductive for minority rights and toxic for the democratic fibre of the nation.
Religion is a personal thing. To quote the Supreme Court (on an unrelated judgement), “The relationship between man and God is an individual choice. The state is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity … Mixing state with religion is not constitutionally permissible.”
When the Government – Central or State – is involved in religion, secularism is attacked, and the unity of the nation is threatened. The extent of the distance between a country’s religious institutions and Government is the best indicator of the status of that country’s democracy.
Not just Rao, but any politician
The problem of misuse of funds by the government on unnecessary, contentious or inappropriate measures is one that is spread across India. It is not unique to one politician or one political party. Examples are boundless when it comes to misuse of funds by politicians – from petty bribes at the local level to major corruption scandals at the national level, there is no dearth of examples.
Image Source: thenewsminute
Let it be made clear: farmers’ suicides is an issue that stains India’s name, an issue that should outrage all of us
Agriculture in India accounts for 50% of the workforce. Though it is an industry which has lost its GDP-share in the past decades, it remains the backbone of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
Farmers’ suicides in India rose by 42% in the last few years. Since 1995, over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide. At the same time, the number of farmers in India fell by 9 million, which makes the spike in suicides all the more alarming.
Maharashtra is the hotbed for farmers’ suicides, closely followed by Telangana and Karnataka. States are also accused of giving false information and covering up evidence, so actual numbers will be much higher.
8 in 10 farmer suicides are due to debts on loans from banks. On average, agricultural households make Rs 6426 and spend Rs 6223 every month. Farmers can barely feed their families; how can they repay loans?
The Supreme Court has criticised the lack of a national policy to aid farmers. Human rights groups have criticised the lack of a national policy to aid farmers. Meanwhile, we are being oblivious to the plight of our farmers.
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