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Government control of religious institutions: A splendid idea
November 22, 2004
I have been hearing recently that there are proposals to take over religious institutions and use their funds to pay for the UPA government's programmes. One of the first uses for these funds would be to pay for the Rs 24,000 crores allocated to Jammu & Kashmir. As Manmohan Singh pointed out,
the Congress has had close ties with J&K from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. 'Kashmir has a special place in our hearts.'
Since the population of J&K is roughly 1 crore, this means the UPA government is offering Rs 24,000 per head. Compare this to the central assistance of Rs 1,137 per head to people in all other states in 2000-2001. And this Rs 24,000 per head is for people who wish to secede from India, who prefer Pakistani terrorists over the Indian Army, who ethnic-cleanse, torture, rape, murder, oppress fellow-Kashmiris based on religion. A cynic might say this is reward for bad behaviour, but we should not judge others, should we?
In the past, I have looked at the tribute extracted by Kashmir, and this latest cornucopia is even more bountiful. J&K has the lowest incidence of poverty in India (at 3.4% in 2000-2001 compared to 26% for the whole country), and even before this new munificence it was on course to be India's first and only state with nobody below the poverty line. But I must not carp or cavil. Since the Congress has 'a special place in [their] hearts' for Kashmiris we must keep giving and giving to them.
Now comes the interesting question of how to fund all this: given that the combined central and state deficits are at alarming levels, that is a non-trivial problem. That's where the wealth in the religious institutions comes into the picture. This is a wonderful idea, why didn't I think of it? This is along the same lines as the idea of taking India's foreign-exchange holdings, and using them for building infrastructure (and incidentally for rewarding our friends). Clearly, the UPA's brilliant economists such as Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh are onto a good thing.
I can point explicitly to some religious institutions that I am familiar with. I merely have to drive in Trivandrum from the secretariat to the Kaudiar Palace to see a bunch of prosperous religious institutions that would fit the bill. I must apologise for not knowing the names of these institutions, but I will give precise enough directions so it is not hard to find them. Next time I go to Trivandrum I'll try to get their names. Let us see:
It would be a capital idea if the government were to take over all these: if I am not mistaken, all of them are built on public land that was ceded. The bounty for the Christians came during the Maharaja's rule, when under pressure from the British Resident, land was given away, and is not even taxed at fair market value now. One Resident, a Colonel Munro, was very diligent: he got Hindu temple lands annexed and commingled with Travancore government land on the one hand; on the other hand, he coerced the government to give away land to Christian churches. Not to mention he got them a government grant of Rs 10,000 in 1819, which was a colossal sum: about Rs 480 million in today's terms at a discount rate of 6%.
The Muslims got their largesse about thirty years ago, probably under the Marxists, when prime land was given to them to build their mosque. The Hindus got the area in front of the Hanuman temple about ten years ago after much agitation: the government wanted to build a memorial to a Muslim minister there.
These are all the religious institutions on one main road in Trivandrum. When you land at Trivandrum airport, you can see a bunch of others: a dozen Muslim mosques and Christians churches can be seen from the air, and most of them are fairly new, having come up in the last twenty years. The only Hindu temple you see is the rather ill-maintained old Devi temple on the beach, right in front of which there is a gigantic 50-foot-long sculpture of a naked, voluptuous, sexually-aroused woman, recumbent. 'Secularism' in action: the place to put this is clearly in front of a Hindu temple to a goddess, wouldn't dream of putting this in front of the Virgin Mary church nearby.
If you drive north on the National Highway from Trivandrum towards Kollam, or south towards Kanyakumari, a profusion of new mosques is in evidence. On a stretch of about 2 kilometers towards Kollam, there are at least five mosques, all but one of which have come up in the last ten years.
And if you drive into Kanyakumari district, there is nothing but churches: this district is at least 50% Christian, and they are very religious people, so the place is chock-a-block with churches. Which is also the case if you go north to Kottayam district or Ernakulam district, which have, respectively, the second-largest and largest numbers of Christians in any district in India. Kottayam, in particular, has some magnificent churches, which must be very prosperous.
If you drive further into Malabar, for instance Malappuram and Kozhikode districts, there must be large numbers of mosques: I am not familiar with the area.
Imagine the amount of money that is held in all these religious institutions! People have been talking about the huge amounts of Christian conversion money pouring into India. There are also reports that Rs 700 crores came into Kerala as hawala money, probably from West Asia. The Marxists are saying this, so it must obviously be true:http://pd.cpim.org/2004/1107/11072004_kerala.htm and http://www.hindu.com/2004/10/25/stories/2004102504280400.htm (and some Rs 2 to 3 crore more per day) and surely some of that ends up in the mosques.
I think if the government can mobilise the funds from all these religious institutions, in no time the national debt can be retired. So I for one fully endorse the purported government moves to take these over. After all, what better use of the people's money other than to fund the Indian government's white elephants and illogical expenditures? In the bargain, if some foreigners' money also goes into the kitty, so much the better.Rajeev Srinivasan