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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 11, March 16, 2024

Why should the government be involved in religious affairs? | Ayush Bajpai, Vishnu Bandarupalli, Sandeep Pandey

Friday 15 March 2024, by Sandeep Pandey


In the majority decision (4-3) in Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen (Dead) By Legal Representatives, the Supreme Court stated that the ethos and secular character of our political system must be taken into consideration during the electoral process. In line with the secular nature of the Indian State, Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act has prevented the interference of religions and religious beliefs with the secular activity of elections by prohibiting anyone from seeking votes on the basis of their religion. The court should liberate the electoral process from forces of national disintegration such as fundamentalism and communalism, and uphold the secular character of our democratic polity. The Constitution neither recognizes nor permits the mingling of religion and State power, and the two must be kept separate. Moreover, as the Constitution mandates the State to be secular in thought and action, the same requirement applies to political parties.

The Abhiram Singh judgment rightly prohibits religious appeals during elections, emphasizing the need for political parties to uphold secularism in their conduct. However, it is essential to recognize that ensuring secularism in governance goes beyond the actions of political parties. The state machinery plays a crucial role in upholding secular principles and preventing the exploitation of religious sentiments for electoral gains. When the state machinery excessively spends on religious activities, it can create a situation where government resources are used to cater to the interests of a specific religious community, potentially influencing electoral outcomes. Therefore, it is imperative for the state machinery to remain impartial and refrain from excessive involvement in religious activities. Failure to do so not only undermines the spirit of secularism but also risks politicizing religion for electoral advantage. In this article we question the spending of State Governments and the Union on various religious activities.

The involvement of the various State and Union Governments in such activities have gradually increased since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister and has hit the zenith with the consecration ceremony in Ayodhya on 22nd January this year.

The Uttar Pradesh government started a new tradition in the name of Deepotsav in Ayodhya since Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister in 2017. When the practice of lighting earthen lamps during Deepawali is going out of vogue and people prefer to put up Chinese made strings of miniature bulbs lighted with electricity, he has started lighting earthen lamps in big numbers. For some strange reason an academic institution, Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University, has been chosen as the nodal agency for implementing the programme of lighting earthen lamps. It remains a mystery how this University justifies this as part of its academic programme. It lit 51,000 earthen lamps in 2017, 4.1 lakhs in 2019, 6 lakhs in 2020, 9 lakhs in 2021, 17 lakhs in 2022 and 22 lakhs in 2023 with the apparent aim of setting a Guinness world record. 25,000 volunteers were employed in 2023 to implement the idea at the cost of roughly Rs. 3 crores. About one lakh litres of oil was used for this purpose. It beats logic why would one waste more precious resources when the previous record is already held by it, not once but year after year? Is it the government’s job to get its name in the Guinness Book of World Records by undertaking such a colossal waste of public resources? Can the government force an academic institution to take up a non-academic activity on such a scale?

 The U.P. State government helicopters are used to bring paid models dressed up as Ram, Sita and Laxman to Ayodhya where the Chief Minister receives them to recreate the scene of Pushpak Viman coming to Ayodhya. Another helicopter showers flowers after the first one has landed. Does Yogi Adityanath have the right to use state resources to fulfill his fantasy? Does he suffer from some childhood deprivation where he didn’t get a chance to play with toys? Our RTI Application (Registration Number- DPTRA/R/2024/80005) to the UP Government seeking details of the money spent on the paid models and helicopters and the protocol for using government vehicles for such religious activities was rejected invoking Section 3(2)(a) of the UP RTI Rules which does not even exist. 

 Yogi Adityanath and his officials also use U.P. state government helicopters to shower petals on Kanwariyas. Senior district and state level administrative and police officers are chosen to do this. How can this be justified as part of their duty? Is there a protocol to use U.P. state government’s helicopter?

 All District Magistrates were given Rs. 1 lakh by an order passed by Principal Secretary, Culture, to be spent in organizing events at temples during Chaitra Navratri and Ram Navami. It is noteworthy that a proposal was given to CM in 2019 to run langars from temples akin to Gurudwaras to meet the problem of hunger and as a solution to beggary. However, this was conveniently ignored.

Before the 22 January consecration ceremony in Ayodhya, Chief Secretary of U.P. Durga Shankar Mishra issued a letter to district authorities to organise cultural (read religious) events at temples beginning a week before the consecration ceremony in which stories of Ram were to be recited. A similar letter was issued by Additional CS of Endowments Department in Madhya Pradesh with instructions to organise Ram Kirtans at temples during 16-22 January, arrange live telecast of consecration ceremony and organise mass feasts. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav declared that five lakh ladoos would be sent from Ujjain’s Mahakaleshwar temple to Ayodhya. Is it the bureaucracy’s job to issue orders for organisation of religious programmes at or without state expense? Is this the job of the government, at all?

The Chhattisgarh CM Vishnu Deo Sai sent 300 metric tonnes of rice in 11 trucks to Ayodhya for the consecration ceremony. The CM flagged off the trucks in a programme organised by the Chhattisgarh Rice Millers Association. Rice Mills take the paddy from government procurement centres, convert it into rice and then send it back to Food Corporation of India godowns for public distribution. How do we know that the rice, wholly or partly, was not diverted from the Public Distribution System?

 Rs. 100 crores has been approved by U.P. government in its supplementary budget for Ramotsava during 2023-24. How do the common people benefit from expenditure of such large sums of money by the government on religious events? Is there any accountability of the government? Will this amount be subjected to CAG audit?

 The Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra, tasked to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya, has 3 out of 15 members who are serving government officials, a union government Indian Administrative Service officer not below the rank of joint secretary, a state government IAS officer and the DM of Ayodhya. If building a temple is a religious exercise then what are government officers doing on this Trust? Strangely, there are no bureaucrats on the Trust formed to build the mosque on land provided by the government in lieu of the Babri mosque by the same Supreme Court order which paved the way for temple construction.

 The U.P. government is likely to pay salaries to priests from a welfare board constituted for this purpose. Considering that the Chief Priest at Ayodhya is now getting Rs. 32,900 and the one at Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi will get Rs. 90,000 per month from their respective trusts, the salaries to be given by the government will be quite handsome. Compare this with what a normal contract worker of the U.P. government gets. On a monthly basis an Instructor in primary school gets Rs. 9,000, Shiksha Mitra or para-teacher gets Rs. 10,000, Cook gets a paltry Rs. 2,000, Anganwadi worker gets Rs. 5,000, Assistant Anganwadi worker gets Rs. 2,500, Panchayat Mitra, who works as a secretary to the Gram Pradhan, gets Rs. 7,000, Panchayat Sahayak, who helps with computer related work, gets Rs. 6,000, ASHA gets a paltry Rs. 2,000 and a Chowkidar, who works more like a village informer to the Police, gets Rs. 2,500. If one considers the important role being played by all contract workers in fundamental departments like education, health-care and panchayat, on whose work development of the country depends one is really left with a feeling of amazement.

(Authors: Ayush Bajpai and Vishnu Bandarupalli are respectively, 3rd and 4th year, law students at NALSAR, Hyderabad and Sandeep Pandey is General Secretary, Socialist Party (India) e-mail ids: ayushbajpai[at], vishnubandarupalli[, ashaashram[at]

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