Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy on Wednesday visited the temple town of Tirupati to attend the nine-day Brahmotsavam festival beginning today. Keeping up with tradition, he presented a 'pattu vastram' (silk robes) to the presiding deity on behalf of the state.
But his two-day visit has sparked a political slugfest as the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is staging protests over a "non-Hindu" chief minister being allowed to enter the temple without having to sign a declaration form requiring non-Hindu visitors to mention their religious identity.
TDP workers have launched state-wide protests against "anti-Hindu" Reddy.
"Ever since he took over as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, more than 80 temples have been destroyed in the past 15 months. To date, not a single miscreant has been arrested. Now, his decision of not signing the faith declaration form brazenly violates the tradition of the Tirumala Tirupati temple," said TDP spokesperson Pattabhi Ram Kommareddy.
Both the TDP and the BJP got fresh ammunition when TTD chairman YV Subba Reddy announced that the temple body had decided to repeal the 'faith declaration form' days ahead of Reddy's visit. Defending the decision, temple officials said the form has been under reconsideration for a while.
"The chief minister’s visit has no relation with our decision to revoke the rule; the temple administration is being dragged into unnecessary political controversies," TTD sources told News18.
As the matter snowballs into a big political controversy, there have been past instances where the temple's faith declaration form was tweaked for major political visits. Rule no. 136 and 137 of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam has been in practice for nearly a decade -- it states that non-Hindu visitors must voluntarily inform the administration about their religion and seek special permission to enter the temple. But there have been exceptions.
In 1999, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was allowed to visit the temple without signing the declaration form for non-Hindus. Similarly, there was stiff opposition when YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Jagan's father, and late Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh (2004-2009) attended the Brahmotsavam festival and gifted silk robes to the presiding deity.
While the temple administration has itself claimed the rule has always been flexible, BJP state president Somu Veerraju argued even former president APJ Abdul Kalam had signed the form when he visited Tirumala in 2003. "The rule is sacrosanct and applies to all non-Hindus, including Jagan Mohan Reddy," he said.
Both the BJP and TDP said they will continue their separate protests despite several of their workers being put under house arrest by the state police. Meanwhile, several Bajrang Dal activists were detained in Hyderabad when they clashed with the police while protesting outside Reddy's bungalow.