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Will Govt roll back on Devasthanam Board?

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By ARUN PRATAP SINGH 
DEHRADUN, 13 Jul: The BJP at the Centre has generally been quite vocal in opposing government control of Hindu shrines. Also, perhaps, because most of its cadre has opposed any such move to usurp control of Hindu shrines by various governments. However, in spite of this, the BJP Government had gone ahead with constitution of the Devasthanam Board to take control of a total of 51 ancient Hindu Shrines including Char Dham temples some months ago. Although, some voices within the ruling BJP had even then expressed reservations against such a move, but the government had gone ahead with the move. Finally, it was left to party stalwart and a seasoned campaigner on such issues, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy to file a PIL against his own party’s government with the Uttarakhand High Court. The hearing in this case is already over and the judgement has been reserved.
Meanwhile, it was a courageous statement by Nainital MP and former BJP State President Ajay Bhatt to express his reservations and even demand reconsideration of this decision. Although the present BJP State President Bansidhar Bhagat did not take the statement very kindly, claiming that Bhatt ought to have advised the government at the time when the Board was being constituted, he distanced the party from Bhatt’s statement saying that it was the personal opinion of the Nainital MP.
However, today, Cabinet Minister Subodh Uniyal seems to have indirectly supported the advice of Bhatt to reconsider the formation of the Devasthanam Board. He said that in a democracy there was no harm in government rolling back certain decisions in response to popular opinion. On the other hand, Cabinet Minister Satpal Maharaj, who holds charge of Religious Affairs in the government, felt that the matter was in the Court and the government would abide by its decision.
Sources within the party claimed that there was a feeling within the government and in the party that the constitution of the Devasthanam Board to replace the Char Dham Development Council and take over the control of Char Dham shrines was perhaps an immature and not a very prudent decision. Apart from the fact that the priests were not happy with the government and that Congress had made it a political issue in the state, the decision also went against the general policy of the party itself.
Today, the Supreme Court upturned the Kerala High Court decision which had upheld takeover of the famous Padmanabha Swamy temple and gave back the management control of the temple to the royal family of Travancore, which traditionally had this control. This decision, felt many BJP leaders, would have a bearing on the Uttarakhand High Court’s decision, too. They also felt the probability of the decision going against the government was very high as most such decisions had already gone against the governments. Incidentally, the petitioner in the Padmnabha Temple case was also Subramanian Swamy along with Mohandas.
During the hearing on the Devasthanam Board, too, Swamy had quoted several previous decisions in this regard, while the state government had chosen to attribute political motives behind Swamy’s PIL.
Sources further claimed that jumping of some NGOs into the case in support of the government had led to Swamy alleging Church funds behind these NGOs. After this, the murmur within the BJP against Devasthanam Board is only growing louder. However, it was Ajay Bhatt who first came out and made his opinion public in this regard. Sources claimed that several senior Sangh leaders were also unhappy with the Devasthanam Board. According to them, while the chances of the government rolling back its decision are slim as the High Court judgement has already been reserved in this matter, the government is getting ready to face any eventuality. Sources further claimed that, in case the High Court decided against the Devasthanam Board, the state government would be willing to accept the decision instead of challenging it in the Supreme Court!