Hyderabad, TELANGANA — One day in December in 2014, Atluri Sitaram Anjaneyulu, called his children to inform them that he was gifting away their presumed inheritance to Lord Venkateswara, the presiding deity of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), one of the richest temple trusts in the world.
“My son agreed. My daughter was not pleased at first but she too agreed later,” Anjaneyulu, now 80 years old, told Huffpost India. Once his children gave their consent, Anjaneyulu registered his two bedroom apartment in Hyderabad as a gift to “Venkateswara Swamy Vaaru represented by Executive officer of TTD”.
“I donated it for the Lord’s pleasure,” Anjaneyulu said. “I only insisted that TTD should use the income from the property for Annadanam.” Annadanam refers to the practice of feeding the poor and needy.
Six years on, Anjaneyulu’s apartment was part of an assortment of 50 homes, shops, fields and tracts of land to be auctioned with the proceeds going to the TTD’s burgeoning endowment — only for the auction to be called off amidst a political storm pitting the ruling YSR-Congress against the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Telugu Desam Party.
The wealth and influence wielded by India’s temple trusts have long attracted the involvement of government appointed members and well-connected citizens, and the TTD is no different; its trustees include several MLAs of Andhra Pradesh, MPs of Rajya Sabha, Sudha Murthy the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, India Cements Managing Director Narayanaswami Srinivasan, My Home group chairman J Rameswara Rao and Nagpur based businessman and close aide of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Amol Kale.
The fracas around the TTD’s auction lays bare the contradictions between the ritual renunciation of wealth by shrine’s devotees and the staggering wealth and hardball...