Amid a political row in Andhra Pradesh over a series of incidents of vandalism of temples, with the ruling party and the Opposition pointing fingers at each other, The Indian Express has found that police investigations into these incidents show that the motive behind most of them was largely apolitical — from the hope of unearthing a treasure in one case to miscreants breaking into a temple in a drunken state in another.
On January 15, faced with political heat over these incidents of vandalism, the YSRCP government in Andhra Pradesh released investigation reports in nine cases, in which opposition TDP and BJP workers and sympathisers have been accused of spreading false news and instigating the attacks. The TDP and BJP hit back, saying the government was trying to blame the Opposition instead of going after those who indulged in vandalism.
The Indian Express looked at the case diaries of some of these cases, and found that treasure hunters were responsible for six of them. Director General of Police Damodar Goutam Sawang said 42 people had been arrested in these six cases.
Further, in three cases in Chittoor, Srikakulam and Kadapa, the idols were desecrated allegedly to defame temple committee members of a rival party. In one case, in a temple located in a remote area of Kalyandurg in Anantapuramu district, wild animals are said to have damaged the idol of Lord Hanuman.
Consider some of these cases
* On October 20 last year, a jewel-studded pot was found missing from Lord Veerabhadra Swamy temple at Talupadu in Prakasam district. On January 6, police arrested N Rama Krishna, Ramesh Chowdary and S Rahmath, who confessed that they routinely targeted temples in the hope of a good loot.
* On September 20 last year, the idol of a ‘Nandi’ was found damaged at a Shiva temple in Chittoor district. Police arrested five men from Karnataka, who said they dug up the idol in the belief that there was treasure hidden beneath it.
* On September 19 last year, an idol was damaged at a temple in Allagadda in Kurnool district. A week later, police arrested S Rajashekar for breaking the idol and taking home some parts in the belief that it would help his wife conceive.
* In Kurnool, one person was arrested for desecrating a temple idol, allegedly to divert attention from a quarrel over land ownership. DGP Sawang said the accused, B Subbareddy, a TDP sympathiser, and one YSR Congress Party leader were in a tussle over ownership of land that was to be acquired by the state government. To divert attention, Subbareddy allegedly garlanded an idol with slippers.
* In four cases — in Kurnool, Krishna and East Godavari districts — the DGP said, people in a drunken state broke into temples and damaged the idols. Their actions were caught on CCTV cameras.
* In another case, a mentally ill person allegedly set fire to a chariot in SPS Nellore.
* Police investigations revealed that in a temple in Srikakulam, heavy rains caused the arm of an idol to fall off. “It was not desecrated as was claimed earlier,’’ an official said.
* In another incident, the accused told police that he took home an idol hoping that it would bring him good fortune.
The DGP said 15 major cases — including that of a chariot being burnt in Antarvedi temple, desecration of Lord Rama’s idol at Ramateertham, damage to a Sai Baba idol in Vijayawada, and desecration of idols at Dwaraka Tirumala — remain unsolved.
He said 58,871 religious places across the state have been mapped and 43,824 CCTV cameras have been installed in 13,089 of them. So far, 15,394 village defence squads have been formed while another 7,862 will soon be constituted.
“All the incidents have different motives. Some are cases of hunting for hidden treasures while others took home idols hoping for good fortune. The incidents are unrelated,’’ DGP Sawang said.
But with the matter taking a political turn, TDP Politburo member Varla Ramaiah alleged the police were targeting and implicating party leaders in temple cases by misrepresenting facts. “This is being done to satisfy Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. The DGP said on January 13 that the temple attacks were the handiwork of mentally unstable persons. Then he changed his line and said on January 15 that some political parties were involved in acts of religious disharmony. Whatever the motive, there was no political party involved in the attacks on temples,’’ Ramaiah said.
BJP state president Somu Veeraju said that instead of arresting the “real culprits”, the government was targeting those flagging the issue. “Instead of implicating BJP workers for highlighting the issue on social media, they should conduct a thorough probe and arrest the accused,” he said.
YSRCP leader and Endowments Minister Vellampalli Srinivas said, “The DGP will provide evidence for the charges filed and the government will take strict action if any one tries to raise the issue for political gains. N Chandrababu Naidu has no fear or faith and no moral right to speak on Hindus and temples,” he said.