Dr.PTR Palanivel Thiaga Rajan’s Speech at CASCADE, Coimbatore

Published Date: March 23, 2019

Governor, Conference Chairman, delegates, Mr. Venugopal Menon who introduced me, Ladies and gentlemen Good morning and thank you very much for this opportunity  to speak to you today.

I am particularly excited to be here today because I have a brief history with the rotary myself as a student both in the Interact & in the Rotaract clubs. And as a public servant I realize that the community needs institutions like the rotary to truly progress the government cannot do all the things it needs to do and so, I am very happy that you have invited me today.

I must also say that I am very pleased to be in Coimbatore. My family has very deep relationships going back four - five generations. Some of the Justice Party people that you saw earlier in the Platinum Jubilee Videos. I myself went to boarding school, Lawrence School Lovedale passing through here all the time. And after 30 years overseas, when I finally returned to India, I have been coming fairly often to Coimbatore starting around 2012-13 when I came in address a CII event. But I would say the two problems about my visit today. The first is that I am now coming so often to Coimbatore that people ask me whether my constituency is Madurai or Coimbatore. I was here last month for the ICAI, I was here last year for the PSG Institute of Management Annual day, but I kind of get over that by saying that since DMK has only one MLA in this whole district its ok if I come every now and then.

But there is a second problem. You know on the second day of a conference like this when it's mostly about people having a good social interaction, I am not a fit speaker. I am usually a guy who likes to talk about Federalism or the State of Democracy or the Budget or something very dense, which is not an ideal topic for a conference like this. So after scratching our heads with the conference Chairman and trying to figure out what would be an appropriate topic, we finally settled on the fact that there is a big debate in society today, a movement started by some, sometimes termed as the redemption or redeeming temples from the government. So I thought you know, why don't I actually step back a bit and talk about why some of the temples are under the administration of the government in the first place. Why is it that we find ourselves in the situation and maybe that will enlighten the debate, because what I worry about a lot both on TV and in the public discourse, we get a lot of noise, very little light, very little insight, very little data. So I thought I’ll just step you back. Give you a little bit of the history talk about the actual laws and acts and how they were devised and enacted. How we go to this place and what are some of the considerations we should be thinking about in this so called let us redeem the temples movement.

So if you stop back in history you know, we are a culture that several thousand years old over the thousands of years history we have different forms of kingdoms, administration, colonialism of different types, invasions from the Middle East. So what we see today has been a progression of various phases of history coming up to a data point or a milestone in the formation of India as a democracy in 1947.

Let’s break that a little more specifically to look at what we now considered as Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu as you all know, in the last two thousand years was originally divided between the Pandian, Cheran, Chola kingdoms. Over time it started decaying and we started getting invaders the Khilji, the Sultanates of the Mughals in the Delhi. We started getting the colonials the Portuguese the Danish, the French the British. At one point, Much of Madras was run by the East India Company which Robert Clive represented. He came & setup in what is now Fort St George. And then eventually the crown took over all the assets of the East India Company and we became a British colony and then we basically became a democracy. So if you see what otherwise known as public assets, palaces, lands historic temples, how do these the ownership of these progress in different times. For example, I am the MLA for Madurai Central constituency. Madurai Central constituency includes the famous Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. At different points in time, the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was owned by the Pandian Kings, the Chera Kings then administered by Khiljis, then recovered by Vijayanagaram Kings, then part of East India Company owned lands, then British owned lands and now Indian government owned lands. So at some level when you look at historical assets, palaces, lands, museums, constructions, temples, those that used to belong to the king in a princely state naturally belong to the people in a democracy. That’s what the form of government of a democratic republic is. Under those circumstances it is quite natural that those assets that changed hands multiple times in the evolution of history, which are otherwise considered people’s assets should end up in the hands of the people and the people as represented by their elected government.

But in fact the progression was not that simple. If you look back, at least during the British time there is a natural kind of cleavage or separation of what happens on the one hand to Hindu and Muslim religious places and historical places and what happens to Christian places. Because most of the colonial powers the Danish, the British, the French, the Portuguese, the churches were so powerful in those countries, I don't know how many of you have been to the Vatican, it is one of the most remarkable buildings in my travels to 60 countries or so I have been to in the world, which shows the movement can be so powerful that within 200 years of being thrown to the lions, they got to decide who would be the Roman emperor, rechristened the holy Roman emperor. So in most of the colonial powers the church is actually more powerful than the state and so colonials came and established organized churches as they have back in their country. So you look at the churches in Tamil Nadu, the basically fall into two categories. All those churches that existed before the British colonization and were not nationalized by the British are either owned by the Architectural Survey of India or are defunct, derelict. Those have you ever been to Dhanushkodi those of you who have been to Trancobar you will see broken down decrepit churches because they were not taken over by the British take their just become no Man's Land

but those churches that were established by the British were taken over during the British time the British did a very smart thing before they left the country they passed a church nationalization act with a broke the church is control from the Church of England and created a local administration in India is a separate entity to administer these churches. So the churches basically rotted or went into proper administration pre independence.

 But the British were much focused. The object of colonialism was economic enrichment it was not societal strife. if anything they wanted to control societal strife while they made money while that took away the assets raw materials made them into finished goods and brought them back. So they were very very delicate about putting their hands on religious assets whether they are Muslim assets now controlled by the Waqf or Hindu assets which are now controlled by the Government


What they did they treaded so lightly that the first time there was started trying to regulate these in 1817 the passed the endowments act which we should look into how public trust public resources are being administered. For 60 -70 years nothing more came of it. because they was wide spread misuse what happens when a kingdom falls and when there is no automatic new order a new rule of law assets will be grabbed by anybody and everybody and that's precisely what happened. So in the late 1800s in the 1885 - 86 time, they instituted for the first time what they called a 6 man commission. 6 Hindu gentleman commission with people like Bashyam Iyengar, Muthusamy Iyer etc. And they said go look into the temples and come back and tell us are the temples are administered properly or do they need to have some new model of administration. The committee came back very clearly and it said we need legal remedies because we can see very clearly in their words widespread and recognized abuses in the administration of these temples. Even then, the British didn’t quite have the will to take on what appeared to be intrusion into religion. So they passed a series of mild reforms. Some of which were opposed and it's worth noting that when they were opposed the Hindu newspaper, otherwise the most Brahmin of newspapers, chided the opponents of those reforms and said opposing this reform is like people opposing the penal code saying that there should be no crime.

In 1920 by British government in effort stave of the Independence movement passed a series of reforms called the Montague-Chelmsford reforms. They allowed for a bicameral system of government call diarchy where the British kept control of revenue, home all of the serious ministries and the allowed elected Indian representatives to take over things like public works, cooperation, help those kinds of things. When that happened, the first Justice Party Government, the first government elected in Madras presidency in 1920 after the Montague-Chelmsford reforms, was the Justice Party Government. The justice party government was a social reformist government unlike any other before or since. In the course of the first five years in power they fundamentally changed the nature of society. For the first time women were given the right to vote that was not done in London and it was not done in Delhi it was done in Madras, in the British Empire. They also passed the law that renamed the Dalits, the then called untouchables, as Adi Dravidas, you were here before us, you have right, they gave them dignity. They passed the communal GO that said 3% of the population should not be holding onto 90% of the jobs government jobs like district munsif collector and the job should be given in proportion to the population’s representation in the caste, the past the first compulsory education bill compulsory elementary education in 1920, for boys and girls. Back then then knew what was important and how to develop the society. And for the first time in the Madras Corporation Sir Pitty Thyagarajar introduced free meals, free lunch as a way of ensuring compliance to the newly passed compulsory education act. And yet, this reformist of all reformist government, a government that has as I say, an unparalleled record of fundamentally transforming the face of society, stumbled when it came to passing the Hindu temple nationalization bill. It was first introduced in 1921, it was passed contentiously in 1922, then went and sat in the governor’s desk for several years after which he rejected and threw it back. The Act was very difficult to get the majority behind it. Many of the justice party seniors Like my grandfather who were devout Hindus themselves there was among the landed, and it here that their own temples, the temples in which we were the Dharma Kartas, parambara kartas, we would lose control. and yet it was considered a critical component because in Hinduism religion and caste are sometimes difficult to separate and in the use of religion and access to temples there were considered different categories, who could come to the front door, who could come to the second door, who could go all the way  to the third door etc. And so, after multiple multiple attempts, in 1925 the bill was introduced again and my grandfather has left behind some copious notes, some of which have been published some of which are with me. as a very interesting story which I only knew anecdotally till somebody said me the recently that Periyar himself had cited this incident on the eulogy given to raja of Panagal the former Chief Minister of Madras presidency when he passed. the incidents that while the was always discussions going on on whether or not the bill should be taken up and passed by my grandfather then was the whip, the ruling party whip of the justice party raja of Panagal chief minister visited tirupati temple after his visit the trustee and the head priest a man giving a box, and they said you know this bill has been in discussion for so long we think it's inappropriate, so we urge you to either not pass the bill at all or if you must pass it, give an exemption to us because we are different kind of temple and incidentally here is a little contribution that shows our good faith after all in politics you need to spend a lot of money. In 1925 I have data that shows that in 1925 the big landed family that I came from which in those days hundreds and hundreds of a cause of fertile land used to pay 15000 rupees taxes to the British government. The Pannai we owned, still own used to pay 15000, so just think about the value of money, in that box was allegedly 500000 rupees in that box in 1925. So raja of Panagal who has till then been a bit waffling should we should we not do we really want this opposition immediately came back to Chennai call my grandfather's as the whip & said issue the whip we are going to passed the bill, if one temple has access to these kinds of resources that are unaccounted, can you imagine what is happening in Tamil Nadu and Madras presidency all over. So on that basis the bill was passed, about 40 law suits followed as they expected, all of which were successfully resolved over the next 20- 30 years. Now, people like to think of this is some kind of political statement. I want to give you some context this was 1926 when it was finally signed and delivered by the Governor


After that in 1937 the justice party lost the government after 17 years on and off. From 1937 to 1967 no Dravidian party ever controlled the government of the Madras presidency of Madras state or Tamil Nadu State as we know it now. It was mainly the Congress or some version of the Congress or Rajaji’s Swatantra party. In 1939 Rajaji, orthodox Brahmin, passed the temple entry act not only cementing the nationalization, but further legislating who all could go where all could enter into the temples that was government revision done by Rajaji himself. in 1951 when the Congress government was here TSS Rajan then a Congress Minister stood up in the assembly and made a speech by said were it up to Nehru they would not be a single private temple in the state, 100% of them should be nationalized. That’s how strong Mr. Nehru felt about, it is on the Assembly proceedings.

Let’s not talk a lot about history, lets fast forward to about 10 years ago. About 10 years ago a state that was not part of the Madras presidency not in South India made serious steps to take control of the administration of all historic and famous temples. In the debate in the house an opposition MLA stood up and said why are we doing this? I read verbatim the government’s response “the State appoints administrators in the historical important temples of the State for responsible accounting of income from donations and expenses and to make the administration of these temples more effective to provide better services to the devotees and the Tourists” this is verbatim assembly proceedings. This assembly proceedings is taken from the State of Gujarat in the year 2010-11, when the Chief Minister was one Mr. Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister of India. So let's be very clear, these principles are independent of politics.

Now, I want to just leave you with some facts and some things to contemplate. In Tamil Nadu today, there are about 38500 temples under the HR&CE department. Between them, they are the owner or entitled owner of about 4 lakh acres of land. Second biggest owner of land in Tamil Nadu after the government of Tamil Nadu. About 34500 of them show net income of less than 10000 rupees a year, about 400 of them show a net income of greater than 10 lakh rupees a year. But keep in mind this is only 34000, 38000, how many temples are there in the state of Tamil Nadu? Probably lakhs. I can tell you that in my constituency every Street has three to five temples every time I go to campaign somewhere as a MLA candidate, the first stop would be at a local Temple with my ward secretary. So there are lakhs & lakhs of temples outside of control limit. Let me take that one step further, by birth I happened to be a mudaliyar. Mudaliyars have their own madam in Kanchipuram, we have a big hand in the Kundrathur Madam, in the Dharmapuram adheenam in the Madurai aadheenam the chief guest on my grandfather to the renovation of the Madurai temple in 1963 was Kanchi Periyavar Kanchi madam is also independent. So if you look across Tamil Nadu 100s of Adheenams and madams and lakhs of temples that function outside of the government control. It is only those historic formerly owned by kings, major temples that are the people's assets that are controlled by the government.

The next question is why only Hindus? And Mr. Venugopal Menon and ask me this question. That has a very clear answer. First it's not just Hindus, I have just told you some small fraction of institutions. Second the same exact rule applies to the Muslim institutions. Of course there are many small Jammads was there are not control most but all historical built by emperors, Mughals, khilji's sultanate are controlled by a Waqf Board. It is a board constituted by the government in Tamil Nadu. 100% of the membership of the Waqf Board is nominated by the government of Tamil Nadu, every single member. Of course I told you why most Christian churches don't have this problem because they already had an institution established on the British founded them in law and set up the church of India separately from the Church of England so there would be no question of sovereignty when Independence came. because the church is being so strong in this colonial powers that they are independent of and superior to the state in many cases.

The next question arises. Who stands for nationalization and who stands for privatization? I personally am the living example. My grandfather renovated the Vadapalani Murugan temple, the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, the statue that is there in Sabarimalai today was made by my grandfather and placed there after the fire incident of 1950, in Tenkasi Kasi viswanathar temple and at least 10 of the temples. He was the whip who pushed for Nationalization, nationalization because my theory is that in the spectrum of atheists to fanatic believer, the atheist doesn't care what happens to religious institution after all he or she doesn't believe. The fanatic thinks only their religion is a good religion and wants all others to be pushed down. The true believer, the one whose heart and soul is with that faith, understands the value of that faith so much to their lives, that they say if it is that important to me, let his faith be as important to him, let his faith be as important to him, let her faith be as important to her. That is why we need secularism. That is true believer. And it is true believers who wanted the temples to be nationalized. I have given you the names of so many iyers & iyengars. In fact, when the bill was passed in the Justice Party Government, the two things they did to right away to allay the fears of devout Hindus, they appointed a special advisor a very distinguished gentleman who then went on to become our Central government Minister and he was N Gopalaswami Iyengar, N. Gopalswami Iyengar crafted the bill and got a pushed through and ensure that all the traditions of Hinduism would be maintained. And who did they appoint as the first chairman of the HRCE insured in those cases in those days called HRE Hindu religious endowment board none other than retired legendary Madras high Court judge Sadasivam Iyer. So this was well meaning people who knew what they were doing, who understood why it had to be preserved, who had an agenda of making it truly democratic and that is why they did what they did.

Now I asked those who want to redeem the temples 4 or 5 questions and with that I’ll close my address.

I ask Mr. Venugopal Menon, if I am going to redeem the temple out of the government’s hands, who I should redeem it to? This gentleman because he looks more religious, that gentleman because he's the right caste, that gentleman because I believe he has the right money? Who should I redeem the temple to? Take it out of the state and give it to whom?

Second if we look all around India including those temples that are administered by boards or trusts that are independent of the State, do you believe in India today that some institution can be run without political influence? Gentleman who spoke earlier this morning told me even in Rotary there is politics. Can you establish some board in Tamil Nadu today that you can say will be insured from political interference? My answer is absolutely not. There is nothing that is exempt from political influence.


Then I ask the question when it is within the government we actually audit it & we fund it this is rumor going around saying 18 Paisa of every Temple goes to the Government absolute lies, Government of Tamil Nadu does not take one paisa from the HRCE department. I have just come from inaugurating the debate on the Tamil Nadu budget. We give 100s of crores a year into the HRCE department. Hindus don’t subsidize government of Tamil Nadu, government of Tamil Nadu subsidizes the temples. That is the mathematical fact you can look at how many ways of audit report you want. so when it is administered by the government and we audit it and check it, I am also a member of the public accounts committee at least three four times you will bring back administration boards, Temple boards, how is the money spent who decides to get that when divided or why we use a contractor. If I have 100 different boards of 400 different boards running 400 temples who will audit them, who will hold them accountable? I'll give you one example when you have you maybe they want followers of the Shirdi Sai baba temple, one of the richest most widely followed temples, has a huge trust, independent of the government 100% independent of the government. That Temple recently the chairman who happens to be a follower of particular party donated 500 crores of the trust to the government of Maharashtra to do some irrigation schemes. I ask a question were those who came and give that money intending for the funds to go to the government. Or did they intended to go for the temple? So if you go separate how will your regulate these?  

Last question, I have been just told that my time is up. If I were to privatize everything that is broken agree with you this government is not functional agree with you all governments have problems agree with you there are lots of corruption in related issues in the HRCE department, but so are there such problems in education department, in the health department in the transport department in this in the public sector banks in the water administration in the land administration. If privatization or redemption from the government is the solution to this things, should we then shut the government down? Should I give the universities away to private people? Should I privatize the GH? Should I privatize the water supply? Surely the solution to having maladministration is to fix the administration and not to say that we should have anarchy or chaos.

So with that ladies and gentlemen thank you very much for your time. I am very happy to have had this opportunity, and hope it sparks some debate and have a good rest of the conference. Thank you.

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