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Behind Bihar govt temple fencing push, Nitish tightrope between secular image, BJP Hindutva

To expand its existing move to fence temples – on the lines of fencing of cemeteries – to prevent encroachments and confrontations, the Bihar government also decided to conduct a survey of all registered temples that see the attendance of a sizeable number of devotees.

The absence of Nitish Kumar's name from the invites sent out by the Assembly Speaker, belonging to the BJP, for Vidhan Sabha centenary celebrations was also seen by the JD(U) as a snub. (File)

The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government recently decided to make the registration of all public temples, mutts, dharamshalas and their trusts in the state with the Bihar State Religious Trust Council (BSRTC) mandatory under the provisions of the Bihar Hindu Religious Trust Act, 1950, with state law minister Pramod Kumar saying that Bihar has become the first state to have done it.

To expand its existing move to fence temples – on the lines of fencing of cemeteries – to prevent encroachments and confrontations, the Bihar government also decided to conduct a survey of all registered temples that see the attendance of a sizeable number of devotees.

There are 2,499 registered temples and mutts with a total of 18,456 acres of land across the state. The government has been surveying them to determine, among other things, how many of them need to be fenced depending on public turnout and apprehensions of any trouble or dispute.

So far, the government’s BSRTC has fenced 205 temples while 94 more are being fenced. This has been done as part of Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo Nitish’s bid to “respond to his senior ally BJP’s Hindutva posturings while maintaining his secular credentials”, sources in the JD(U) said.

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In a veiled attack on Nitish, Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal recently expressed concerns over “rising terror threats” in the state. Significantly, Nitish also holds the home portfolio.

BSRTC member and JD(U) MLC Neeraj Kumar told The Indian Express: “Our government has always worked for social cohesion and camaraderie. There has been no major communal incident under the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government since November 2005,” adding that “Just as our government had fenced about 8,000 cemeteries over last decade or so, we have also been fencing temples as well to prevent any encroachment or confrontation”.

The BSRTC said it had identified 355 temples from across 26 of Bihar’s 38 districts for fencing so far, adding that “maximum fencing requests” had come from districts like Gopalganj, Nalanda, Jehanabad, Rohtas, Gaya and Madhepura. “We have already fenced 205 temples and the fencing of 96 more temples has been underway….To take it further, the trust will survey more temples. As CM Nitish Kumar also made it clear that temples where there are notable gatherings and prayers are offered, fencing would be considered there,” Neeraj said.

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The Nitish government has also taken another initiative to prevent illegal possession of lands belonging to temples or mutts by their individual trustees. “The BSRTC has recently written to all DMs that no temple or mutt land should be registered in any individual’s name but only in the names of their trusts… It is being done to avoid illegal transfer of such temple or mutt land to any individual,“ he said.

There are 2,512 unregistered public temples and mutts with altogether 4,321 acres of land across the state, which need to be registered mandatorily now, following which there would be a survey to determine their fencing requirement on the basis of same parameters being followed in the cases of the registered temples and mutts.

The Nitish Kumar dispensation came up with the temple fencing proposal during Nitish’s third CM term (2015-2020) to counterbalance its previous decision to ensure the fencing of cemeteries. It has now decided to scale it up for two reasons — to “prevent encroachment of temple and mutt lands” and to “give a response to the BJP over its charges of Muslim appeasement”, sources said.

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The principal Opposition RJD’s national spokesperson Subodh Kumar Mehta told the Express: “Appeasement of either community will not work in times of development politics. There is little being done for employment generation and setting up centres of educational excellence. It is time to give drought relief than consider fencing of over 2,400 temples. These things may make political headlines but cannot be called development initiatives”.

State BJP spokesperson Nikhil Anand, however, said: “We appreciate the decision by NDA government in Bihar to survey and fence the mutts and temples. We seriously feel that there is a need to protect the Hindu religious premises. Many of the historical, ancient and traditional religious centres are encroached upon, occupied and destroyed for the lack of protection. The land disputes on any of these sites must be resolved.”

First published on: 23-07-2022 at 10:41:18 am
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