| A devotee takes rest at Mahabodhi Mahavihara on Monday. Picture by Suman |
Patna, July 29: The government today circulated an amendment to the law that governs the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, seeking to do away with a clause that allows only Hindus to become the chairperson of the management committee of Buddhism’s holiest shrine.
At present, the Mahabodhi Mahavihara — a Unesco World Heritage Site — is managed under the Bodhgaya Temple Act, 1949. According to this act, the management committee has eight members — four of whom are Hindus and four Buddhists. The district magistrate of Gaya is the ex officio chairperson of the committee.
Section 3 (3) of the Act states: “The district magistrate of Gaya shall be the ex officio chairman of the committee: Provided that the (state) government shall nominate a Hindu as chairman of the committee for the period during which the district magistrate of Gaya is non-Hindu.”
This clause has been enforced only once in the 1960s when KM Zuberi was posted as the district magistrate of Gaya. MLC Jogeshwar Prasad was then appointed chairman to the committee. Since then, only Hindus have been chairpersons.
The new legislation, called the Bodhgaya Temple (Amendment) Bill, 2013, seeks to delete the clause.
The BJP, however, is opposed to this move.
Former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said: “When the first chief minister of Bihar, Shri Krishna Singh, had presented the bill for the Bodhgaya Temple Act, he had said the legislation had the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi. It was drafted on the recommendations of a committee headed by former President Rajendra Prasad. It was aimed at empowering Buddhists in running the temple.”
He added that instead of deleting the clause compelling the government to appoint a Hindu as the chairperson, the amendment should aim to make both Buddhists and Hindus chairperson of the temple management committee.
On July 7, the temple witnessed a series of low-intensity blasts — the first terrorist attack in the state.
“The chairman of the managing committee of any shrine or religious organisation is from the same religion because s/he knows best the traditions and culture of that group. The chairmen of the Bihar State Hindu Religious Board and Sunni Wakf Board are Acharya Kishore Kunal and a member of the Sunni community, respectively,” he said.
The government, however, defended its decision to introduce the amendment. Parliamentary affairs minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav said: “The DM cannot be appointed according to religion, caste or community. The clause of nominating a Hindu as chairperson of the committee to manage the Bodhgaya temple goes against the spirit of secularism of our Constitution.”