Should Tirupati return only Reddy’s gold crown?

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Hypocrisy is a trait that afflicts not just humans, but the gods who are at the mercy of humans, too. And Tirupati, which proudly flaunts the title of “World’s Richest Hindu Temple” in a country where three-quarters of its billion citizens are among the world’s poorest is proof.

News reports have it that the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) board, which runs the Venkateshwara temple atop the seven hills, has asked its officials to verify with tax authorities if the Rs 42 crore crown presented to the Lord by the disgraced Bellary mining don G. Janardhana Reddy in June 2009 was purchased using “ill-gotten money”.

“If the ornament was bought form his official earnings and it was shown in the income-tax documents, we will retain it. If it is not a legal offering, the TTD board will decide whether to return it to the actual donor or to hand it over to the IT department or to the CBI which is probing the mining scam,” board member R. Surya Prakash Rao was quoted as saying.

An earlier report said that devotees had taken out a rally in Tirumala to protest against the “tainted” crown being used to adorn the idol of the good Lord every second Friday. But in that report, the TTD executive officer L.V. Subramanyam was quoted as saying:

“We have no way to ascertain whether the gifts are from legally earned money or black money.”

To be sure, the 30 kg, 2.5 feet tall crown, which is studded with 800 diamonds and a green emerald, isn’t the only magnanimous offering made by Reddy and his family. A Deccan Herald report says he had donated nearly 32 gold crowns to nearly 29 dieties in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for various favours rendered.

(The controversial gold crown (in picture) was donated when the Andhra Pradesh government of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy allocated land for his Brahmani steels project, in which YSR was alleged to have had more than passing interest till his son Y. Jagan Mohan Reddy divested his stake.)

A report in Bangalore Mirror, that the TTD board is under pressure from ruling Congress party cadres in Andhra Pradesh, should surprise nobody. There is no love lost between the Congress and YSR’s son, especially after the recent CBI raids on Jagan Mohan Reddy’s premises and the allegations of his close ties with Janardhana Reddy.

As a churumuri poll remarked when the donation was made:

“For the son of a former police constable to make the second-highest offering to Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala after the kings of Vijayanagar is quite an achievement indeed.”

But what should surprise devotees and non-devotees is that the highly political TTD should suddenly consider only Janardhana Reddy’s donations to be suspect and worthy of investigation. And that too only after Janardhana Reddy was arrested by the CBI.

Is it TTD’s case that all the other  donations that are made to the temple at Tirupati are squeaky clean?

More to the point, if Reddy’s donation turns out to be not so clean, will TTD reopen all the other donations made by shady individuals and institutions under the cloak of anonymity? And if all the tainted donations are returned will Tirupati still retain its reputation of being the “World’s Richest Hindu Temple”?

TTD board member L.V. Subramanyam has now clarified that there is no question of returning Reddy’s crown “under any circumstances”. In effect, it means there is no question of investigating or returning any other donation. Now, what does that say about Tirupati and the large-heartedness of Lord Balaji, corruption or no corruption?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Reddy brothers and Lord Balaji