Jagan Mohan Reddy's move to nominate uncle as chairman of TTD Trust Board sparks row; all eyes on BJP

G Ravikiran
Jaganmohan Reddy, the new chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, on Saturday decided to have as many as five unwanted sixth fingers. His move to appoint no fewer than five deputy chief ministers—the highest ever in India—to represent the state’s different social groups and regions is a political balancing act which he had no need to undertake.

The controversy surrounding the Tirumala Tirupati Devastanam  (TTD) Trust Board €" which governs the famous Sri Venkateshwara temple in Tirumala €" continues. Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy's decision to nominate his uncle and former MP YV Subba Reddy as TTD chairman surprised the public and raised eyebrows in political circles.

Jagan and his family, who adopted the religion decades ago, are Christians. His opponents have used this to claim his family is "diluting the temple trust." But Subba Reddy, who is from Jagan Mohan's maternal side of the family, is a Hindu.

In 2009, when Jagan's father and former chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy was killed in a helicopter crash, his opponents alleged that God had "punished him for trying to pollute the Hindu devotional flamour at Tirumala". However, now in YSR Congress party circles, the explanation is that "God has blessed the YSR family and given them a chance to serve him." Which means God has written a beautiful script, as Jagan recently stated regarding TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu.

A tangled history

The YSR family has a long and tangled history with the TTD.  The late Rajasekhar Reddy was a regular visitor and had a special spot in his heart for the town, even as there were multiple controversies under his administration, including reducing the jurisdiction of the holy hills,  allowing evangelism to be practiced, and the 2006 gold coins scandal (although in this case, IYR Krishna Rao, then executive officer of TTD wrote a report stating that all the items were safely in custody).

In 2012, Jagan Mohan, kicked up a storm by entering Lord Venkateswara's temple without signing the declaration form stating he has faith in the deity (which is mandatory for non-Hindus). TTD officials said Jagan Mohan argued there was no need since he'd signed the register in a 2009 visit to the temple.

This issue resulted in a war of words between the TDP and YSRC. Janasena president Pawan Kalyan stated at a press meet that "Jagan Mohan Reddy is a man who has entered Tirumala hill with footwear. He cannot get power. Never."

Priests pick sides

Former TTD head priest AV Ramana Deekshitulu, said to be close to the YSR family, was unceremoniously sacked under the previous Chandrababu Naidu regime after accusing the trust of financial irregularities. "Digging was done in the temple kitchen to get the treasures of Chola and Pallava kings. A pink diamond given by Mysore Raja was misplaced," he alleged. "The truth has to come out."

He further alleged that the TDD has been "purchasing milk from the Heritage Group which is owned by Chandrababu Naidu's family."  In May 2018, Deekshitulu even met BJP chief Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh and reportedly asked for a CBI probe into the alleged irregularities, at a time when the BJP and TDP were at loggerheads.

Similarly, 'Dollar' Seshadri,  a senior priest accused of being involved in the gold coins scandal, was suspended under the YS Rajasekhar Reddy regime, but returned under the Naidu administration.

Jagan's plan

But times have changed.  Just months before the elections, Jagan Mohan €" wearing a traditional outfit €" sought blessings from Vishaka Sri Sarada Peetham chief Swami Swaroopananda in Rishikesh. Later, he visited Rajashyamala Devi temple and offered a special puja. The video was also circulated on social media. Before his swearing-in, Jagan Mohan visited Tirumala, performed a special puja and took the darshan of Lord Venkateshwara.

Jagan Mohan is seemingly seeking to restore confidence in his family and highlight the alleged irregularities under the previous regime. Now, all eyes are on the BJP, which attempted to take over the Tirumala temple through the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the Chandrababu Naidu regime, but backtracked following outrage. TTD chairman Putta Sudhakar Yadav earlier had to declare he was a Hindu and accused the BJP of running a 'malicious campaign' against him after reports on social media suggested he was a Christian.

Also See: Day after taking over as Andhra CM, Jagan Mohan Reddy says he will ensure country looks up to state for good governance

With Andhra Pradesh loss and no role in national politics, has Chandrababu Naidu reached end of the road?

BJP wants to piggyback on YSRCP to south, but Jagan may find it hard to help without special status for Andhra

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