Does the Uttar Pradesh government aim to take over control of all temples in the state? The question has gained currency following a questionnaire circulated to the temples by the UP State Law Commission asking, among other things, whether the District Magistrate should work as the CEO of every temple in the state.
Temples undoubtedly figure as a priority for the BJP government both at the Centre and in the state. While construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya is a top priority, demolition of a large number of smaller temples in Varanasi to create a corridor to the Kashi Vishwanath temple fuelled speculation about government control.
In March last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating the corridor on the debris of the old temples had claimed that it was for the first time that the Government had managed to acquire the buildings around the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Now less than 10 months later, the questionnaire circulated by the state Law Commission heightened apprehension of more acquisitions.
The questionnaire asks 16 questions aimed at formulating an Act related to religious sites in UP.
The questions explicitly mention temples.
A mahant of a local temple in Varanasi confirmed that officials had got in touch for answers to the questions. He said, “I had no option but to give consent to hand over this property to the government.”
A local activist said on the condition of anonymity, “Modi-Yogi are very clear with regard to temples: either you agree to the plan or get ready for demolition.”
Besides enquiries about the management of the temples, by individuals or by public Trusts, the questionnaire seeks to know the number of people employed, the main source of funds, grants or help received from the government and how the funds are used.
The temples have also been forced to part with details of their bank accounts, if any, before asking ‘Do you think District Magistrate must be the CEO of each and every religious site? Do you think government should make any act for the management of religious sites?’
Is BJP planning an Ayodhya 2.0 in Varanasi?
According to unofficial sources, there are more than five thousand temples in the state that the government has identified as “illegal”.