The post of the chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), embellished with the glitter of power and pelf, is in focus now. The change of guard in the government of Andhra Pradesh and the apparent proposal of new Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy to place his uncle YV Subba Reddy at the helm of the Balaji temple’s trust board have provided the backdrop.
The chairman, who heads the 20-member TTD board, is very powerful, so are the people aspiring for the coveted post. A few profiles of those who headed the TTD indicate this fact – liquor baron DK Adikesavulu Naidu; T Subbarami Reddy, promoter of the Rs 3,000 cr Gayatri Group with presence in infrastructure, power, hospitality and real estate; Chadalavada Krishnamurthy, who owns a chain of educational institutions; and Putta Sudhakar Yadav, founder of PSK Infrastructures, with presence in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, to name a few.
An ad for a popular agarbathi brand claims its products are a link between God and devotees. In a similar fashion, the post of TTD chairman is touted to be a link between the deity at Tirumala and the elite across the world. In a nutshell, it is a direct road to the heavenly abode.
Why is the post considered so powerful? Obviously, the TTD chairman has the onus of protecting the trust’s wealth, which roughly accounts for half of the Andhra Pradesh annual budget of Rs 2 lakh crore. Plus, the man in the seat enjoys high-level connections with the who’s who of the country representing business and industry, politics and godmen heading spiritual centres.
The appointment of the TTD chairman and members of the board is a choice of the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, in whose Chittoor district the world-renowned Balaji temple is located. But sometimes even the chief minister remains helpless in exercising his powers if a contender enjoys the backing of relatively more powerful persons.
One such incident is rumoured to have occurred in the corridors of power during the early days of Congress leader YS Rajasekhar Reddy as Chief Minister in 2004. When his close relative Bhumana Karunakar Reddy hoped to see himself in the post with YSR’s support, YSR reportedly told him, “Look, there is no chance for you right now as there is someone who enjoys the blessings of our party leader Sonia Gandhi and I am obligated to appoint him as my first priority.” Obviously, T Subbarami Reddy became the TTD chairman.
The men in the post of TTD chairman always tend to gravitate towards power. Take, for instance, the case of DK Adikesavulu Naidu, who was appointed the TTD chairman during the Telugu Desam Party regime. DK was elected as a Lok Sabha member from Chittoor during 2004-09 on a TDP ticket. A year before that, he was made TTD chairman at the fag-end of the Telugu Desam Party’s N Chandrababu Naidu government.
The liquor baron switched loyalties and backed the UPA-I in the floor test in the Parliament in a no-confidence motion moved by the Left parties on the Indo-US nuclear deal. In return, he was rewarded with the TTD chairman post for the second term by the Congress government.
The appointment of the chairman quite often courts controversy regardless of the party in power. Then Congress MP Botsa Satyanarayana accused Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of the day, of having received kickbacks from DK for his appointment as head of the TTD.
The TTD was again at the centre of controversy when Karunakar Reddy, who apart from being a close relative of YSR is known to be an atheist with left moorings, was nominated to the post of chairman of a Hindu religious institution like the TTD.
Karunakar Reddy’s controversial Dalita Govindam programme, which enabled the celestial marriage of deities at Dalit colonies, invited a lot of criticism from spiritual leaders, theists and the Hindu faithful.
When YSR, a Christian, tried to downsize the Seven Hills, making way for the promotion of evangelism in Tirumala, that too caused an uproar among the Hindu devout. The attempts of his son and current Chief Minister Jagan to appoint his maternal uncle YV Subba Reddy has created a similar controversy. Subba Reddy is accused of practising Christianity, but he has denied it.
World’s richest temple
The Lord Balaji temple is one of the most revered and richest temples in the country with a footfall of 1 lakh pilgrims daily. Its hundi collections clock Rs 1.5 to 2 crore every day, besides gold offerings weighing 2 kg. The deities are adorned with 65-70 kg of gold ornaments. A single crown adorning the Balaji deity studded with diamonds and rubies weighs 30 kg. The wealth the temple generates quite often breeds allegations of embezzlement, says activist NB Sudhakar Reddy.
BKSR Ayyangar, an RTI activist who moved a petition to know the fate of the precious jewellery presented by the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadevaraya to the temple in 16th century, accused the TTD authorities of failing to ensure transparency in preserving the ornaments of antique value. He said the TTD, which initiated an inquiry as a follow-up to his petition, failed to trace any of the antique jewellery.
Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states. Views expressed are the author’s own.