Odisha CM plans to counter BJP’s Jagannath temple donation drive
In a bid to counter BJP’s plan of initiating a fund collection drive for the 12th-century Jagannath temple in Puri on the lines of a similar drive for the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya, the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha plans to set up donation boxes at major railway stations and airports across the country where devotees can donate money.
The temple, currently amid a ₹3,200 crore expansion drive as part Sri Jagannath Heritage Corridor project, has recently become central to the politics of the ruling BJD and opposition BJP. Patnaik has been leading the campaign of beautification drive of several temples across the state including the Shiva temple of Lord Lingaraj in Bhubaneswar and temple of Goddess Samaleswari temple in Sambalpur district.
The Patnaik government has so far allocated about ₹1,237 crore for the development of the corridor around Jagannath temple in Puri under which the area within 75 metres around the temple will be transformed into a heritage corridor to attract devotees from across the world. Presenting a resolution in the state assembly last month for completing the corridor work of the temple, Patnaik said Lord Jagannath was the greatest identity of the Odia community.
“Our history, culture, tradition and belief system are all centred on the Almighty. He is the symbol of Odia esteem and pride. Visiting the Jagannath Temple once in a lifetime and getting a glimpse of the Lord is the only prayer of millions of devotees,” Patnaik had said.
Sri Jagannath Temple Administrative (SJTA) officials said plans are on to encourage devotees to donate to the temple through donation boxes. “Donation boxes would be installed at airports, railway stations, educational institutions and companies to supplement the ₹12 crore annual income from the temple hundis. We will try to generate more revenue from the stone quarries owned by the temple administration in Tapang area of Khurda district. Besides, commercial stores would be constructed on the lands of the temple at different places. The rents would swell the temple revenue,” said SJTA chief administrator Dr Krishan Kumar.
The state government’s plans to put up donation boxes at airports and railway stations come a week after Union petroleum minister and senior BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan wrote to Puri king Gajapati Dibya Singha Deb, urging him to launch and lead a mass fund collection drive for the development of ₹3,200 crore Jagannath temple heritage corridor.
“The drive should be transformed into a revolution in which all Hindus across the globe would get a chance to serve Lord Jagannath both physically and through donations for the development of the 12th-century shrine,” wrote Pradhan, drawing parallels with similar efforts for the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. He also assured of the Centre’s help in waiving off income tax on the funds received from devotees from across the country and world.
To give a fillip to their plans, Pradhan and other BJP leaders of Odisha have already donated to the temple in recent weeks.
Pradhan’s offer came in the wake of falling revenue collection due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as falling bank interest rates on its fixed deposits. Last year, the temple administration had withdrawn nearly ₹545 crore from crisis-hit YES Bank and deposited it in two nationalized banks amid massive public outrage.
Unwilling to be drawn into the political battle, Gajapati Dibyasingh Dev did not commit himself but said the drive needs the support of the state government, the Central as well as devotees around the world.
Nervous about BJP’s game-plan of hijacking its temple card, political analysts said the Naveen Patnaik government may have planned the donation box formula. “It’s now an open secret that the two major political parties are using the temple card to shore up their prospects before next year’s panchayat polls. The BJD would not like to share the credits of the development of the corridor around Puri temple with the BJP and thus would try every trick in the game,” said former Odisha minister Panchanan Kanungo.
For more than two years, the Naveen Patnaik government is cleverly playing the religious card by committing funds for the development of temples including Jagannath, Lingaraj as well as a host of other temples in the state to counter BJP’s edge. The state government has taken a special interest in the development of temples such as the Jagannath temple of Puri, Lingaraj temple of Bhubaneswar, Baldevjew temple of Kendrapara and Samaleswari temple of Sambalpur pumping money into their peripheral development.
Apart from Puri, the government recently announced a special Act for the Lingaraj temple and unveiled the Ekamra Kshetra project for the development of the area around the Lingaraj temple. Though not known to be a regular visitor to temples, Patnaik, over the last two months, visited Jagannath temple, Lingaraj temple, Manikeswari temple and Samalaeswari temple.