Politics and Economics of Mathura’s temples…(similarities with Central Bank Governance??)

Fascinating piece on politics/governance and economics of Mathura’s temples.

Apparently, the government wants to regulate these temples to ensure tourists are not looted . In a way similar to Goa’s taxi case, but here we cannot really have competition. Thus, the government wants the pandits to be regulated under a Board to manage affairs. Obviously, the pandits/priests are not amused:

The pandas (priests) who conduct pujas in temples in Mathura have decided to oppose the Uttar Pradesh government’s proposal to constitute a board to manage and develop religious sites in this pilgrim town. The Akhil Bhartiya Teerth Purohit Mahasabha, the apex body of Mathura’s priests, which met a few days ago, has said that the proposed board would interfere in religious rituals and infringe upon the rights of priests. The priests also fear a loss of income and livelihoods.

This is not the first time that Mathura’s priests have locked horns with the state government, which is headed by Adityanath, the chief priest of the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur. Last month, Adityanath’s statement that Mathura’s pandas were bringing a bad name to the state by extorting money from tourists riled the pandas, who held protests and said that the ruling BJP would have to pay for Adityanath’s arrogance.

There are nearly 4,000 temples in Mathura, including nearly 40 that are quite famous, like the Banke Bihari Mandir. Nearly 10,000 priests perform puja at these temples for devotees, who are referred to as “yajman”. Members of a particular caste from a state or region in the country tend to visit specific priests in Mathura for their pujas. The priests survive on the payment they receive from their yajmans. This tradition has been followed for generations.

At the meeting of the Mahasabha to discuss the shrine board proposal, it was decided that the priests would oppose any such move. There is fear that any such move would bring priests and temples, who functioned pretty independently so far, under indirect control of the government.

Rakesh Tiwari, executive committee member of the Akhil Bhartiya Teerth Purohit Mahasabha, said: “We are not against development of the temples. They should be developed and devotees should get more benefits and then only their numbers will increase. But what about the purohits [priests]? We are dependent on them [devotees] for our survival. It should not lead to hampering our livelihood.”

The Priests protest (and rightly so) that any such action leads to Government eventually controlling affairs as well. Soon, you will see those close to Government get privileges like darshan ahead of others and so on.

The Government is trying to please via additional concessions:

The development of religious places and the streamlining of religious services offered at these sites is already on the agenda of the new BJP government in Uttar Pradesh. Soon after it took charge in March, the government ordered that Mathura and four other holy cities in the state be provided with continuous power supply.

Last week, principal secretary Avneesh Awasthi visited Mathura (Hindi link) along with other state officials. The visit is believed to be a precursor for the establishment of the shrine board. “We inspected things for the development and improvement of services,” said Mahesh Sharma, district tourism officer, who accompanied Awasthi. “We are not aware about other decisions.”

Tiwari claimed that the priests met Power Minister Shrikant Sharma, who is also their local MLA, during his visit to Mathura on Friday. He said that the priests voiced their concerns and Sharma assured them that their demands would be considered sympathetically.

The Mathura priests have suggested that they would be open to the shrine board proposal if at least half its members were from their community. “If it is a 10-member board then five should be from the panda community so that religious sanctity and traditions are maintained, and our voices will be heard,” said Tiwari.

He added: “[During the meeting with Sharma] we had demanded that purohits should also get representation in the proposed shrine board. Let us see what happens.”

Hmm.. Again a typical politcal economy case where you see multiple powers and levers being pulled and pushed….

This blog has always been fascinated by how these religious organisations are governed. It tells you a lot about society in general…

On central bank connection, the article points only one temple in UP is manged by the government – Kashi Vishvanath temple:

At present, the only other temple in Uttar Pradesh to be managed by the government is the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. Though the temple is managed by a trust, the government controls various aspects of its affairs such as the appointment of staff and disbursement of salaries. Pandits deputed inside the temple are appointed by the trust which has government officials on board. The Chief Executive Officer of the temple is a senior government official.

One could just replace the temple by RBI and trust by Central Board, and rest of the para would just fit for the Indian central bank’s affairs as well. Earlier, the CEO of the RBI which is the Governor was a former senior Finance Ministry official as well! It is only now that an outsider is being tried but one is never sure whether this practice will continue. Some might say even if an outsider is brought, he/she after all becomes a senior Government official,

This is also not too surprising by the way. Historically, temples played the role of financiers for the State as well along with their major spiritual duties as well. Call it the central bank if you want to in terms of its relations with the State. Thus, it was natural for the King/State to be interested in the affairs of the temple and try and have its own nominees in temple’s affairs. I would not be surprised to read about ministers of Kings being in committees of temples…

There is a reason that for those interested in affairs of money and banking are interested in affairs of temples too…

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