The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soft Hindutva hard on coffers

Bhopal, Jan. 20: Temple priests in Madhya Pradesh need not wait for divine intervention to improve their lot. The approaching footfall of elections will do, especially if the state is ruled by a party dogged by taunts that it is tinkering with “soft Hindutva”.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh, determined to blunt the BJP’s “Hindutva” agenda in the run-up to the Assembly polls, has received the Cabinet nod to double the honorarium to temple priests even if it means an additional burden of Rs 2 crore on a stretched state exchequer.

Sensing a tough battle against the BJP’s star campaigner, Uma Bharti, the Congress chief minister hopes to win the support of thousands of temple priests who enjoy considerable clout among the masses in smaller towns and rural areas.

Under the new plan, the state government will dole out Rs 500 a month to priests who do not possess any temple land and Rs 300 to those who own less than five acres. But temples with more than 10 acres are not entitled to the state grant.

The last time the temple priests got a raise was in 1998, which was also an election year.

The hefty rise in grants is aimed at strengthening Digvijay’s image as a guardian of “genuine Hinduism”.

A fortnight ago, he had announced a bonanza for Dalits, promising to hand over to them surplus temple land. However, second thoughts crept in after fears were expressed that the move might not go down well with priests.

Digvijay is at loggerheads with the RSS in Ujjain after he threatened to acquire 1.56 hectares around the historic Mahakal temple. But the temple management, which had been claiming the land as its own, is pleased.

Known to be pious, Digvijay regularly visits temples inside and outside the state and donates money. He also has a reputation of never turning away a sadhu or person of any other faith.

Some of his political opponents accuse him of seeking the “hand of God” through these acts to stay in power. While the chief minister is tight-lipped about his “personal affair”, state Congress leaders project him as a “model Hindu” in contrast to Bharti’s brand of radical Hindutva.

Digvijay’s move to increase the priests’ honorarium has forced the BJP to admit in private that such a course was “overdue”.

A delighted Congress pointed out that a similar raise was given to maulvis a couple of months ago by the state’s department of religious affairs.

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