Amravati: The controversy over the forced retirement of AV Ramana Deekshitulu, the head priest of the famed Lord Venkateshwara temple in Tirumala who recently alleged financial irregularities in the institution’s administration, took a political turn on Thursday.
The ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh has alleged that the Centre plans to gain control over the Tirumala temple through the Archaeological Survey of India, and is using Deekshitulu as a conduit. “Powerful forces in Delhi are behind Deekshitulu’s allegations regarding siphoning of temple funds and destruction of temple sanctity by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD),” said Vemuri Ananda Surya, TDP leader and chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Brahmin Parishad.
The TDP had parted ways with the BJP last month for its alleged failure to implement promises made in the AP Reorganisation Act, besides granting special category status to the state.
In its maiden meeting on Wednesday, the newly constituted trust board of the TTD decided to enforce a 65-year retirement age for all archakas (priests) in the Tirumala temple – which happens to be the richest in the country. Deekshitulu accused the body, headed by senior TDP leader Putta Sudhakar Yadav, of taking a “political decision” in view of his recent allegations.
Surya, however, wondered why Deekshitulu was suddenly making all these allegations against the TTD after keeping silent for years. “Why did he go to Chennai and address a press conference arranged by BJP leaders? What was the hidden agenda in speaking against the TTD only after the constitution of the new trust board? Has he found irregularities only in the last four years of TDP rule?” he asked.
The TDP leader said Deekshitulu’s allegations were part of the BJP’s attempt to gain control over every institution across the country. “It recently tried to bring the Tirumala temple under the purview of Archaeological Survey of India, but backtracked fearing a reprisal from devotees,” he said.
Surya also alleged that Deekshitulu is a supporter of YSR Congress party president YS Jaganmohan Reddy. “Very recently, he conducted a puja at the residence of YSRC leader and former TTD chairman Bhumana Karunakar Reddy. A head priest of the Tirumala temple is not supposed to attend private functions,” he said.
The TDP leader also dismissed Deekshitulu’s allegations that ancient pieces of jewellery, including precious ornaments donated by Vijayanagara king Sri Krishnadevaraya, had been misappropriated. “I wonder why he did not raise the issue during the Congress regime between 2004 and 2014. This clearly shows that Deekshitulu is a pawn in large scale conspiracy by the Centre to destabilise Andhra Pradesh and gain control over the state in connivance with the YSR Congress,” he asserted.
While Deekshitulu could not be immediately contacted for comment, former TTD executive officer IYR Krishna Rao stated that the decision of the trust board to enforce retirement for priests was against the rules. “Priests are not government servants as they do not enjoy pay scales, increments and promotions. Normal retirement rules do not apply to them as it is a lifetime service,” he said. “It appears as if the TDP government is taking revenge on Deekshitulu for raising crucial issues.”
Rao, who retired as the chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh government, also accused the TDP government of not constituting the Dharmik Parishad to oversee the recruitment of priests.