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VHP plots army of priests

Bhopal, Dec. 17: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has offered to raise an army of 100,000 priests to serve the Hindutva cause in Madhya Pradesh, where the ruling BJP lost two bypolls last week.

But for this, the VHP wants an overhaul of the management of temples in the state.

Madhya Pradesh has over 12,000 state-run temples where priests receive Rs 300-1,000 a month as honorarium from the exchequer.

A similar monthly stipend is given to maulvis and muezzins in state-funded madarsas. A state-run madarsa board looks after the day-to-day functioning of the Islamic schools.

While some priests come from Sanskrit/religious schools in pilgrim towns like Varanasi and Ujjain, most belong to families of pujaris that have served the temples for decades. The shrines are run by trusts whose members are drawn from the community. District collectors head the trusts but usually do not intervene in the day-to-day functioning.

The VHP said it wants the collector replaced by a member of the community close to the Sangh parivar. With their own man at the helm, it plans to recruit priests who will do more than just conduct religious ceremonies.

Its offer to the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government said that most priests now have little knowledge about the Hindutva cause. An opportunity of awakening and channelling “energy” at the grassroots is being wasted, the VHP said, and advised the BJP to “utilise” priests more productively.

Earlier this year, Chauhan had attempted to streamline the functioning of temples and audit their funds, a move that did not go down well with some cash-rich trusts. The chief minister had called a meeting of temple trustees and priests that was attended by about 1,000 people from 48 districts. Ujjain’s Mahakal, Datia’s Pethambara Peeth, Mahiar’s Sharda Peeth and Omkareshwar’s Jyotirlinga temple were represented.

Chauhan had told the gathering he wanted the cash-rich temple trusts to run professionally on the lines of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, which has several endowment schemes. He also announced setting up a monitoring mechanism and temple committees.

The VHP now wants the chief minister to opt for an advisory body attached to each temple instead of a monitoring mechanism.

While there has been no reaction yet to the proposal from temple trusts, sources said they would bitterly oppose the VHP. Since priesthood is often hereditary, those running the temples now would not like to lose jobs, land and their elevated position in society to VHP-backed recruits.

The Opposition Congress too has a big stake in the matter as most non-VHP affiliated temple trusts have some sort of functional ties with the main party.

With less than a year to go for elections, the political battle lines in this state famous for its pilgrim centres are being drawn in temples.

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