M Sridhar Acharyulu
The time has come to bring TTD (Tirumal Tirupati Devasthanams) under the purview of Right to Information Act 2005. It is wrongly claiming exemption from the Act, after implementing it for some years initially.
In the context of the recent controversy created by the TTD Chairman, Y.V. Subbareddy, claiming that non-Hindu persons need not declare their belief, which is against the norms and practices of the TTD, this author wrote an open letter to Chairman seeking the disclosure of all rules, regulations and norms and details about declaration requirement and those complied or not complied with those norms.
The devotees of Lord Venkateshwara have a right to know the Acts, rules, customs, GOs and practices for securing the good governance with transparency in TTD, which deals with thousands of crores of rupees of the people. The Chairman has a duty to make TTD transparent.
The law and practice of TTD demands that a person who is employed or who takes over as Chairman or Member of the Trust Board should be a Hindu in letter and spirit. It is not a government institution where anybody can be appointed without discrimination based on caste or religion. It is a religious institution totally run on public funding, which also pays the salaries of Government employees.
It is in tune with equality that there is no bar to any persons to enter and have Darshan of Lord Venkateswara except the requirement of formal signing of a declaration of belief for persons belonging to other religion. Those who do not believe in icons and ‘Vigraharadhana’ are expected not to come to have darshan and worship the statue or ‘Vigraha’ of the Lord.
But, if they personally want to see a ‘Vigraha,’ out of their own will, it amounts to belief and nothing can stop them from having darshan and perform pooja. Dharma Darshan is for all without even the formal condition of declaration of belief. Taking trouble of coming to Tirumala itself is a declaration for them. It may be recalled that a Muslim devotee had donated 108 Golden Lotus flowers, with which Ashtha Dala Pada Padmaradhana is being performed every week for a long time.
Only when a person wants to avail the temple honours of welcoming and VVIP privileges he/she needs to declare belief or leave the temple without availing those special privileges. Nothing stops them from having Dharma Darshan, common for all. The trustees or officers cannot welcome them unless they know that VVIPs believe in Lord Venkateshwara. It is an established practice consolidated over a period to secure declaration signed before the VVIP of a different religion is allowed inside the temple.
It is sad that Chairman of the TTD Trust Board said that there was no need for any such declaration, for the reasons best known to him. Then he has chosen to give a clarification about it. Quite interestingly through this denial, he has confirmed what he said. He said that he “did not say that the declaration rule for people of other religions who come to visit Lord Balaji temple need not be implemented.
His statement further says: “Thousands of devotees come from all over the world every day to Tirumala with belief in Lord Balaji. 80,000 to 1 lakh devotees throng the temple on festival days and other auspicious days. There will be many people of other religions in such pilgrims. What I said was that we cannot ask all such people for declaration….. I only said that… Sonia Gandhi and late Chief Minister Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy did not give any such declaration when they had visited the temple and offered prayers. So, present Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy also need not give any declaration…”
“According to TTD Act, only Hindus are eligible to have darshan under rule no. 136. Rule no. 137 clearly says that people of other religions who want to visit Lord Balaji temple must submit a self-declaration of their religious status. According to a memo issued by the government in 2014, the temple authorities themselves will ask for a declaration if the visitors possess any identifiable pieces of evidence on them. However, it was not practised many times when political or other prominent people visited the Lord Balaji temple. Neither did they give any declaration… YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had started his historic ‘Paada Yaatra’ only after having darsan of Lord Balaji. After completion of Yatra, Jagan walked from Tirupati to Tirumala on foot. After YSRCP came to power, Jagan took charge only after having darshan. This evidence is adequate to prove that he is an ardent devotee and believer of Lord Sri Venkateswara. This is why I told him that he does not need to give a declaration. CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy will come to Tirumala on September 23 to offer silk clothing on the eve of Garuda Utsavam on behalf of the public of the entire state. He has the utmost devotion to Lord Balaji. Such a person should not be asked for self-declaration. This is what I had told, but I did not say that the declaration rule is not at all needed. Everyday thousands of devotees visit the temple. It would not be possible to identify people’s religion in such a rush. I appeal all not to create such unnecessary and unwarranted disputes as the Brahmotsavams are ahead.”
Once, APJ Abdul Kalam, before becoming President, has visited the Tirumala temple. Aware of requirement of declaration, he was looking for the declaration book to be brought for his signature. He patiently waited for the officers to search, and bring the book, he signed it, and then proceeded inside the temple. He was sincere enough about his duty to follow the law of the land. The TTD should have prepared itself for such an eventuality because some VVIPs are very honest and stick to norms.
Another significant example is that the Chief Justice of undivided Andhra Pradesh, Justice Nisar Ahmed Kakru, just before entering temple, came to know about declaration and refused to sign declaration of belief in Lord Venkateshwara, because he was not a believer. He was sincere enough to say that he would respect the custom and rule and leave without entering the temple. He believed in being truthful and thus refused to file a false declaration. I was told by a former TTD Board personality that Mrs Sonia Gandhi claimed that she was a Hindu having married into a Hindu family, believed in its culture and tradition hence she need not declare her belief separately. Almost all VVIPs respected the TTD norm. It is irrelevant and unwarranted to say that there is no need for signing a declaration. It shows the lack of understanding of the norms and the culture of Tirumala.
There is a strong need for Chairman to declare whether he believed in Lord Venkateswara and recognized the need to implement norms and rules of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, as the statement unnecessarily created confusion and disturbed an established practice. Those who do not believe in Lord Venkateswara should leave Tirumala Tirupati sincerely like former Chief Justice of AP Kakru.
Dharma Karthas or Trustees means they must keep up the trust and Dharma. They should be sincere in performing this duty, be forthright, transparent, bring transparency in TTD by bringing it under RTI Act, so that Chairman, trustees and employees are answerable to every devotee of Lord Venkateshwara, who donate from one rupee to unlimited amount of wealth. Either they should believe in Lord Venkateswara like Abdul Kalam or believe in truthfulness like Nisar Ahmad Kakru. They have a duty to declare to the people through official website the norms and practices of signing declaration, which VVIPs visited with declaration and without it, if some visited without declaration, they should give reasons for that.