When the political independence of India was being discussed, there were many bigoted Britishers like Churchill who said that Indians were incapable of ruling themselves.
“If Independence is granted to India, power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India.”
And there were Indians who thought so as well.
Even the fighters of freedom, like Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari – Rajaji, were totally aware that independence will not be a solution for everything and even might be regretted. He wrote in 1921 itself,
“We all ought to know that Swaraj will not, at once or, I think, even for a long time to come, be better government or greater happiness for the people. Elections and their corruptions, injustice, and the power and tyranny of wealth, and inefficiency of administration, will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice, and efficient, peaceful, more or less honest administration.”
Alas, he was correct. Compared to many states which achieved political freedom in the mid 20th century, India was no success story for many decades. We were known for endemic poverty, corruption and bad governance and many did look back nostalgically to the British rule. It would be lazy and unjust to blame that happening only on Congress. When there is a paradigm disruption, even if Bose and Sardar were running the show, such are unavoidable.
So why did Rajaji and others, even while correctly anticipating what will happen, still struggle for freedom.
Rajaji’s justification was,
“The only thing gained will be that as a race we will be saved from dishonour and subordination. Hope lies only in universal education by which right conduct, fear of god, and love, will be developed among the citizens from childhood. It is only if we succeed in this that Swaraj will mean happiness. Otherwise it will mean the grinding injustices and tyranny of wealth.”
That justification does not give the full picture of why people should struggle against colonialism. To understand that, we should know the difference between Conquest-assimilation and Colonization.
If we are conquered and then the conquerors do provide an honest administration with opportunities for all, then there is no shame or reason to fight against the conquerors. Even if the conquerors are from alien origins, as long as they treat the conquered territory as a province of the polity, with the same rights as their own territory of origin, then there is no need to throw them off, purely for tribal identity.
But Colonialism is not so, it explicitly treats the colonized as a source of raw material, a market monopoly for goods and exploits it only for the benefit of the rulers. Any investment the British made in India, be it railways, European style education etc., was primarily to maximize the profits of colonial exploitation. But this exploitation of the common man is often invisible, and only during periods of crisis do the colonial exploitative designs get revealed, as it was revealed at Jalianwalla Bagh, during the various famines of India, in Bengal, in Madras – where British agricultural policies of imposing cash crop cultivation left the population without food when drought-struck and the British did not care enough to come to their aid. They were still exporting food out of India during famines only for the sake of profits.
Those are the behaviours and policies, which made freedom worth fighting for, even though it was expected that at least in the immediate years after independence, India would do far worse than it did as a colony of the British. Had the British treated India as a province, like Cornwall or Sussex, there would have arguably been no need to fight for freedom.
Still unfree territory of India:
The reason I recollect this is because it is not Goa or Pondicherry that were the last parts of India to get independence from a colonizer, but that there are still very essential parts of India still under colonization.
“The Hindu temples of India have been colonized by the Secular State Governments.”
Again, it does not matter whether the colonizer is a foreigner like the British or Portugese, or Hindus themselves. What matters is the attitude taken towards the colonized population or entities and by that measure, the Indian State is a colonizer from whom the temples must be freed. Like any colonized territory, the temples of India under State control are looted, they are unequally taxed, their heritage smuggled and their traditional practices destroyed. And whatever investment the governments provide for the upkeep of the temple is disproportionate to the actual assets and revenues of the temple. It is a typical case of exploitative colonialism.
Further, such State occupation of temples is also unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said so, yet governments have been delaying and distracting to retain control over the temples. While the governments continue to colonize, the Hindu population is generally unaware of this slavery for the most part.
Hindu apathy and history:
There is a historical reason for this lack of awareness. Temples in India were highly autonomous, with their own administration, finances etc. Yet the Patron-Protector of the temple was the King. This dynamic particularly accelerated during the Islamic invasion, when temples were prime targets of loot and plunder. When the Hindu kings fought back – rebuilding temples and restoring the worship – the relationship between the temples and the kings got solidified to a great extent, making the kings the Dharmadhikaris of many temples.
The kings considered themselves as servants of the deity, not as the owners of the temple. From Padmanabha-dasas of Thiruvithamkoor (Travancore) to Adhyasevak of Jagannatha at Puri, they held the deity to be the ruler of the kingdom and they as the primary servitors/trustees.
When India got independence and got all the princely states to transfer their powers to the Indian state, it took over the responsibilities towards the temples from those royals and Hindus went along with it, because in Hindu imagination, it was the natural duty of the ruler to take care of the temples. However, the attitude of the Secular State towards the temples is hardly the same as the royals had towards the temples. Being secular, it can’t be the Patron-Protector of the temples, but being the inheritor of princely states, it still controls the temples. This dissonance results in exploitative colonization and a general lack of awareness among the people.
But slowly things are stirring and it is dawning on Hindus how their institutions alone are being taxed and hampered by the state, while those of Christians, Muslims and Sikhs are left free. Only their contributions to temples are taxed, that tax is combined with the general revenue of the government and then from those general revenues, subsidies and benefits are given to the non-Hindu population. Is that not a kind of indirect Jizya tax levied on the non-Muslims of a Muslim Sultanate. Then are not our Secular States actually Secular Sultanates?
This is best illustrated by a recent case in 2020 during Ramzan in Tamil Nadu
- 20000 odd temple servitors, were left unpaid for 2 months, by the HR&CE,
- Yet temples are asked by the same HR&CE to donate 10 crore rupees, to the govt. for the pandemic – thereby Secularizing the funds
- Then the government supplied free rice of 545 tonnes to mosques for Ramzan.
I hope nobody is naive enough to argue that it is not the exact 10 crores which would have been used to supply free rice, but other money. Thankfully this was averted by alert activists and the HR&CE was stopped. But this is a very minor case of success amidst enormous looting of Hindu Temples by the elected governments themselves.
Temples are not government or public property but the governments behave as though they are and worse, even while treating them as public property, continue to exploit them. Hence the need to fight for the freedom of temples from government control.
Concerns of the colonized:
This brings us to the primary concern expressed by many, when this subject is broached: that of corruption, mismanagement and harassment encountered currently in Hindu temples. Even if we grant that these are really pervasive problems and not mere propaganda by vested interests, how is it relevant to the subject of freeing temples from government control?
- If the government is currently in control, and there is corruption, mismanagement and harassment, is it not then the government’s fault?
- Does anybody even believe that anything run by the government is bound to be less corrupt or less mismanaged, than when run by non-governmental groups – community or private parties? If today anywhere in India, someone is asked to take us to a place where corruption is most rampant, then it would inevitably lead to a government department – Registar, RTO, PDS shop etc.
- Corruption is corruption, whether it happens under the control of the government or outside, the same action can be taken to correct the situation. In fact, it will be easier to rectify the faults of the non-government managers, with the help of the government, than challenging the unresponsive bureaucrats who run government departments. So, it seems that people are fine if corruption is done by the government, but otherwise not. That is a very untenable position to take.
- Finally, is there then no corruption, mismanagement, harassment among Churches and Wakfs boards? Then why is there no demand for governments to take over those institutions?
The other major concern expressed is what happens if governments step away? Who takes over? Will there not be chaos? Again this is an expression of under-confidence, that we the people are incapable of organizing and doing anything by ourselves. Like what was expressed by Churchill about Indians. This notion has been inculcated by the nanny state, mai-baap sarkari socialism that only the government is capable of doing anything for the society.
Nevertheless it is a partially valid concern and needs to be addressed. And similar to what Rajaji predicted about India’s Swaraj, things could get temporarily worse for some of the temples.
Yet that the risk is mitigated by many things,
- Govt. control of many temples is not that old. There are temples which were colonized in the 70s, 80s etc. So, the traditional communities who managed the temples prior to that are still around, and can help in ensuring smooth transfer of administration.
- Govt giving up temples is simply an abstract entity giving up self-assigned responsibility. The people who are involved in day to day activities of the temples are still going to be there and not vanish. Just that the accountability will not be towards some unseen HR&CE commissioner or policy, but to the local community management.
- Even the locals will remain the same mix of the good, bad and ugly. The same local political influencer will still rule the roost – for good and bad, same contractors etc.
- And the government does not vanish either, it is still responsible for security and safety, should audit and regulate, as it does with private companies, unions or associations.
- Most temples for their core functioning are still aligned with Agama Shastras, that reference framework is not going to vanish either.
There are successful models like the Dharmasthala temple, where an exemplary job is being done by the community with little interference by the government.
We can still expect the outcome to be along statistically predictable lines,
- Most temples, there would be no discernible change in the way they are operating.
- A smaller percentage of temples, the situation will get worse, with more looting, abuse, lawsuits etc.
- And with even a smaller percentage, things will get far better, with more alignment towards the Agamas, Dharma rakshana etc.
These things will also change over time. Similar to the story of India, where some states went BIMARU, some prospered, but again overtime the net result was a freer and prosperous India. So, it is worth demanding freedom from the Secular Sultanates, rather than be caught in this crippling status quo of exploitative colonialism. At least, that way Hindus will have something substantial to count as an actual collective success, rather than merely the electoral successes of a supposedly pro-Hindu political party. In short, Hindus must demand freedom, even if it is to fail.
More on Risk Mitigation
As we noted above, many concerns about giving back temples to the communities are valid but just not compelling enough to reject the cause of freedom.Still those who are concerned must involve themselves in one or more temples to ensure that the probability of doing better increases, rather than letting their fears hinder the movement for temple freedom.
While doing so, we must remember that the only entity accountable to people at large is the government. No temple committee or private party needs to assuage common concerns or address expectations. For example,
- Ayodhya Bhavya Ram Mandir is overflowing with donations, when thousands of temples are unable even to conduct a single day of puja. Still nobody can demand or expect Ram Mandir trust to share their bounty. Only engage and request.
- Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthan (TTD) is running a Balaji Franchise across the country as though it were a fast food chain instead of focusing on saving the 7 hills of Tirumala itself from Christian encroachment. Although, TTD is currently controlled by the government and technically speaking, can be questioned, the larger point is that even if it were not so, there would still be no reliable mechanism to make the board answerable to the public at large.
Each temple is specific to the Devata, Vidhi, Agama and the local trustees. Outright physical and financial abuse are still the government’s responsibility, again similar to what is applicable on private companies. But there can be no general plan, policy applied on all temples of India. That would be an attack on the diversity of Dharma, no matter what the intentions are – Constitutional morality or Hindutva-reform tendencies.
With that in mind, there is always room for innovative ideas:
- Private-Public partnership, TVS group has already been doing some good stuff with Navathirupathi.
- Nagarathars – Chettiar community, have been the patrons for many temples in TN.
- Networking of temples, again a traditional practice, where the leading and rich temple of a region, will act as a patron of the peripheral ones, with interactions and involvements – like a river and its tributaries and distributaries.
There are potential problems in every solution – excessive commercialization, imposed progressive reform etc. But those are the stuff of life and have to be negotiated. The answer to the concerns is not to stop change, but to get involved in managing it.
Freeing temples from government control is a macro initiative, which will to a great extent address the paucity of funds for collective action and propel Hindus towards owning our own narrative. But that alone, by itself is neither an obstacle nor a solution to all our challenges. In the current state or after freeing the temples, a lot of work needs to be done for Dharma Rakshana.