Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao appears to be a deeply religious man. He has every right to be so. But when Rao, the chief minister, draws on public funds to fulfill his personal religious vows and makes a spectacle of it, there is a clear breach of public faith in the office he holds. Last Wednesday, Rao was at the Tirupati temple to make an offering of gold ornaments worth Rs 5.5 crore. The funds for the ornaments had been sanctioned by the government and drawn from the Common Good Fund, a state fund earmarked for renovation of dilapidated temples. He has been making similar offerings in gold at various temples, across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, all sourced from public funds. Rao’s argument that he made these vows on behalf of the people of Telangana to invoke the gods to favour their demand for a separate state is not persuasive.
The Common Good Fund of the Endowments has a clear purpose and fulfilling vows Rao took in his personal capacity is not among them. These ostentatious offerings are presented by Rao, with family members in tow, to the deity as a well-choreographed public event. The prime beneficiary of this publically-funded display of faith is Rao, which is clearly a misuse of office. While the Indian state does not insist on a clear separation between the church and state, propriety demands that people in high office do not spend public funds or use public utilities to satisfy their subjective religious yearnings. The state renovating religious places, building infrastructure to access them, or subsidising pilgrimages is not the same as public officials accessing public funds for personal gratification in the name of faith.
While Rao was at the Tirupati temple, the police in Hyderabad was putting down a public protest by youth against rising unemployment. Among those arrested was M. Kodandaram, the Osmania University professor who headed the Telangana Joint Action Committee, the umbrella platform that spearheaded the mass movement for a separate Telangana state. The protests indicate a restive street. Halfway into Rao’s tenure after he swept the 2014 assembly election and formed the government, there is growing disillusionment that statehood has not delivered jobs or addressed development concerns. Addressing that perception is what Telangana’s chief minister should be more visibly preoccupied with.
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