An Interview with Dr Amit Thadani – Fighting Temple Robbers



Please accept our express thanks for speaking to Jagrit Bharat through this interview.


Dr Thadhani, we would like to start by going back a little in time: You and your wife Dr Anjana Thadhani are from medical background with successful careers as doctors. When and in what manner did you get involved in the cause of rescuing Hindu temples from hands of raiders?

My involvement in the cause of temples started when I came in contact with certain RTI documents pertaining to temples run by the ‘Pashchim Maharashtra Devasthan Samiti’ (PMDS) that the ‘Sanatan Sanstha – Hindu Jagruti’ had put on their website, which revealed tremendous mismanagement as well as loot of temple resources. For example, even income tax returns had not been filed for over three decades, records of lands controlled by the temples had been “misplaced”, the appointees to the temple board were purely political and there was intense lobbying for the same, works for which money was paid to the contractors was never done and many such explosive revelations.

As these documents were in Marathi, they had not received the wide circulation that they deserved and I decided to put them out along with their translation on social media. That was how it started, and thereafter as I researched more and more the real extent of this massive plunder was exposed, and I kept posting this information on twitter and other forums for creating wider awareness about the problem. Later, I filed an RTI to get a copy of the Justice Tipnis Report that had revealed massive siphoning off of Siddhivinayak Temple wealth into dubious trusts and even companies run by politicians, this data was put in the public domain as well and went quite viral.


You brought to the fore one of the most contentious matters, yet one of utmost importance pertaining to Hindus, of misappropriation of funds dedicated by them to trusts like those of Vaishno Devi Temple, Balaji Temple in Tirupathi, Mahalaxmi Temple, and Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, among other major sacred temples, and exposing the corrupt nexus between Political parties and trustees of these temples. What in your opinion has been the main reason for lack of awareness among various leading Hindu organisations and Hindus at large about this vital issue all these years?

Hindus have been brainwashed into thinking that government takeover of temples is a good thing because they get better facilities for darshan and overall the shrine is better managed. But they do not realize the dirty underbelly of government control: money that could have been put to use for Hindu dharma is siphoned off to secular government treasuries and trusts run by politicians, and even to construct mosques and churches.

When I put the data related to Siddhivinayak Temple in the open, a few reporters contacted me but not one of them ran the story. The data pertaining to PMDS has been in public domain since so long, but not one channel or paper has run the story to the extent that it should have. It is almost as if they do not want people to know the truth. Thankfully we now have social media and our dependence on mainstream media for the truth has reduced to a great extent.

 

You have taken on corrupt politicians of various parties like the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and exposed their nexus with corrupt trustees of various temples. Do you not feel threatened considering the clout these people have at all levels of the administration?

A lot of this information was already in public domain and we have seen how the Sanatan Sanstha, which exposed the wrongdoings in temple management and finance by the erstwhile Cong-NCP government, has been targeted and implicated in bogus cases. A politician whose name came up in a recent expose has also filed a bogus police complaint against us to try and browbeat us into silence. But this is something that cannot be compromised on, whatever the risk.

 

It would be informative for our readers to know the extent of these financial irregularities and how dangerous this issue has been, if you could share some experiences about attempts by these corrupt raiders to intimidate you and your family.

The extent of financial irregularity is enough to dwarf most of the scams that have emerged in the era of the UPA government. Just one scam at Tirupati, in which priceless jewels from Krishnadevaraya’s time were replaced by fakes, is valued at Rupees 50,000 crores! No government functionary has been charged or punished. There are scams involving the famous Tirupati laddoos, which is a Rupees 100 crore industry by itself.

25,000 acres of land belonging to Kolhapur Mahalaxmi Devi are simply “missing” and its records destroyed. Jewellery offered to the Goddess was not even accounted for, basic stock taking not done. Even the floor of the temple and the clothes of the goddess were not spared by the scamsters.

We have now seen in just the past couple of years how the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was brought under the control of the High Court appointed bureaucrats after massive wealth was uncovered in its hidden chambers, and thereafter even the jewels from the deity’s body have gone missing.

At Vaishnodevi, the traditional shop-owners along the route were evacuated and 70% of the shops handed over to corporates, on the ground that locals loot the pilgrims!! Mining license for bauxite was given on the Trikuta Hill itself by the Omar Abdullah Government in collusion with UPA Government at the Centre, barely a few hundred metres away from the holy cave itself, after denotifying an entire sanctuary – the Trikuta Wildlife Sanctuary. Imagine the hell a denotification of an entire sanctuary should have raised, but did you hear a single environmentalist speak up, or a single paper or TV channel do a prime-time coverage of it?

As regards intimidation of me and my family, other than a few phone calls by Mr Pravin Naik (former trustee of Siddhivinayak Temple Trust) threatening to sue me, and the bogus police complaint lodged by him against me and other members of the Shree Siddhivinayak Temple Trust Anti-Corruption Samiti, there hasn’t been any, but I am watchful nevertheless.

 

Now, coming to the specific issue of the misappropriation of funds by politicians and former trustees of Shri Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai: Siddhivinayak Temple is a one of the most famous temples of Mumbai which attracts devotees from all over the world. Could you explain in brief the exact nature of the scam that you and Hindu organisations like Sanatan Sanstha exposed in the Siddhivinayak Temple trust for the common devotee?

The Siddhivinayak Temple was taken over by Maharashtra government in 1981 by an ordinance that was later converted into an act. The act does not specify the qualifications for being a trustee and allows serving politicians to draw compensation from the trust in addition to their salary as MLA/MLC. It is no surprise that almost all trustees after its takeover have been serving politicians of the ruling party of the day.

Dr Amit Thadani during the press conference of ‘Sanatan Sanstha’
exposing scam in Siddhivinayak Temple Trust
In picture (L to R): Mr Shivakumar Pande (Bajrang Dal), Mr Ajay Sambhus (Co-ordinator for Shri Siddhivinayak Temple Trust Anti-corruption Action Committee), Advocate Virendra Ichalkaranjikar (Legal Advisor), Dr Amit Thadani (member) and Mr Shambhu Gaware (Sanatan Sanstha)(Source – Sanatan.org)

The misuse of temple funds was exposed in court in a petition filed by one Mr Kewal Samlani against the Trust. A one-man investigation was conducted by retired Justice Tipnis who submitted a damning report exposing at least 37 cases where the funds of the temple were sanctioned on “urgent basis” to trusts run by various politicians including Narayan Rane, Dilip Sopal, Sharad and Ajit Pawar, Prithviraj Chavan, Eknath Gaikwad, and shockingly, to a private limited company in which Congress MLC Sudha Joshi was a director. Even an Al Faiz Charitable Trust received funds of 7.5 lakh from the Temple!

All this was being done while the Trust itself needed funds for its activities. The total amount runs into several crores. I obtained a copy of the Tipnis report through RTI and mapped the trusts named in the report to the politicians that run it. Sanatan Sanstha has also been filing multiple RTIs and has exposed numerous cases where funds of the temple were misused.

A recent case appeared of two former trustees who had raised reimbursements for an official trip to a cancer hospital run by the Siddhivinayak Tempe Trust, it was found that two Innovas were allegedly booked, one for each trustee, toll receipts were not of the route to the hospital and fuel bill submitted was of a suburb of Goa! When confronted with these facts, Pravin Naik (former trustee) claimed that he had travelled by his own vehicle and gone further to Sawantwadi which was his native place. If he went by his own vehicle, who rode in the second vehicle, or was it a bogus bill? Since Mr Naik claimed he did not know who submitted those bills and that he had not received any reimbursements (later we checked the records and found that he had taken money in advance and not as reimbursement!), we offered all necessary support to help him clear his name. It is amusing that Mr Naik thereafter filed a police complaint against us for bringing his name in the open instead of pursuing the matter with the Trust to clear his name.


Do you perceive any change in the working of the trusts of various temples in India and specifically of the temple trusts in Maharashtra, like Pandharpur Temple, Siddhivinayak Temple etc, since the ‘Hindutvadi’ Bharatiya Janata Party – Shiv Sena government took over in 2014? What are the aspects still lacking where corrective action is required?

I am completely against governments running temples, be it BJP-SS or Cong-NCP. However, it is undeniable that the BJP-SS are much better at running temples and we have not detected any misuse of funds under their tenure other than Siddhivinayak Trust handing over a staggering 100 crores for Jalyukt Shivar project to the State Government over the past four years. This is money meant for Hindu devotees and Sanatan Dharma. To hand temple wealth over to government for use in government schemes, no matter how noble, is a misuse of funds.

If the Trust had to do these activities, it should have conducted it on its own programs instead of giving to the Government – at least it would have got credit for it. There is no provision under the Act by which this can be done. We are also requesting that the areas that have received funds from the Temple should at least have a small shrine of Siddhivinayak built as a mark of gratitude towards the contribution of the deity to their village or district.

A substantial number of beneficiaries of medical aid from the Siddhivinayak Temple Trust are Muslims who do not believe in idol worship or any god other than theirs – even a basic criterion of giving aid to devotees of the shrine is not adhered to, and this has not changed significantly over the years. Governments treat temples as tourist destinations and revenue collection points instead of centres of faith and devotion.


What is the one most important thing that the Government must do to ensure that donations of the Hindu community are not siphoned off for welfare activities for people of other religious denominations?

Government must take a letter from every person of other religious denomination who gets aid from a Temple Trust/ Endowment, that they are devotees of the Deity and have their full faith in the Deity. That said, Government-appointed temple board members will continue to do this and we have to be vigilant and alert in checking their activities incessantly.


What should all Hindu Organisations and the common Hindus do to pressurize the Government to relinquish its direct and indirect control of Hindu Temples?

File and fight cases in court – the Indic Collective Trust has taken the battle to the Supreme Court and must be fully supported. From the South, Mr T R Ramesh is leading the charge. A front comprising several powerful grassroots organizations is being put together in the West as well.

The average person can also participate on-street dharnas and protests, donate to these organizations working on ground, talk to as many people as he/she can to create a wider awareness, and make it impossible for the government-appointed trustees to do anything wrong by collating data through RTI and keeping a hawk’s eye on the management till such time as the temple is under government control. On-ground activism is the only way forward, and I am happy to say that it is finally happening.


In your honest opinion, in the light of the above question and having worked for the cause of freeing Hindu Temples from the hands of corrupt people for many years, do you think that a day will come when donations consecrated by Hindus to the temples can be directly used for countering conversions activities of missionaries? Do you feel such complete independence of the Hindu Temple Institution is possible within the current Constitutional framework taking into consideration the utterly venal and greedy political class?

That day will surely come very quickly if enough people stand up and protest. Politicians understand numbers better than anyone else. Once a critical mass of aware people is reached, they will have to comply. It is up to us to spread the message as widely as possible. The Constitution does not allow the State to squat on temples indefinitely, and they must be handed back after rectification of any defects in administration. It will be a long drawn battle to free temples from the political class.


How would you explain your stand to some of the ‘Secular Hindus’ who do not see it as a problem that temple trusts are using funds contributed by the Hindu community for welfare measures for Muslims and Christians. They also see no incongruence in the appointment of non-Hindu members to Hindu temple trusts, as seen recently in the TTD issue. What is your opinion on such ‘Secular Hindus’?

In simple terms: a secular State has no business running temples. Let the government declare Bharat a Hindu nation, and then run as many temples as it wants. Also, show me the masjids and churches that help Hindus without an expectation of conversion to their religion – it cannot be a one-way street. Thankfully, the vast majority of Hindus still have better sense, but simply lack awareness about the extent of loot and mismanagement that goes on in government-controlled temples. Once they are informed with irrefutable proof that politicians and bureaucrats are looting the temple wealth, they identify better with the problem. In any community, maybe only 1-2% of people will actually do something on ground from the “aware” group, this is something we should accept. The challenge is to grow the “aware” population by crores to gain lakhs of more activists.


Apart from this principal cause, we are aware that you organise various camps in rural areas as part of the non-profit initiative “PEHL” (Prime Education Health Learning Services) started by you and your wife Dr. Anjana Thadhani. The readers would like to know about the various works done by PEHL in rural areas.

 

PEHL medical camps at rural tribal clusters in Maharashtra at Jambhulpada-Aghai cluster and some at Vikramgadh cluster1

We started PEHL in 2011 with focus on education, health, child abuse awareness and diagnosis and rehabilitation of children with disabilities. As of date, we support about 300 destitute children in state-run orphanages in Mumbai and Lucknow with supplementary education, counselling and other support services. Our rural medical projects at present serve four tribal village clusters in Maharashtra – we conduct quarterly medical camps in the villages and our health workers (2 in every cluster) follow up and organize care for the patients who need further treatment or tests to enable end-to-end service. Nutritional intervention and training is imparted to parents and health workers to eliminate malnutrition in these villages by using locally available inexpensive foods.

PEHL Medical camp

Our child abuse awareness programs have reached over 30,000 children and 3,000 teachers in three states and Dr Anjana Thadhani is also on board of West Zone of ‘Kendriya Vidyalayas’ for investigation of cases of child abuse and sexual harassment in their schools. We run two clinics that provide support to children with disabilities by way of special education, physiotherapy, speech therapy, counselling, etc. at nominal charges.

 

Your efforts in providing relief during the Uttarakhand and Nepal Earthquakes was widely appreciated. How would you describe the experience of helping people in distress?

 

During Nepal earthquake relief work

It is a very traumatic experience to see people in distress during such calamities, and extremely fulfilling to be able to help them in some little way. In Uttarakhand floods following the Kedarnath tragedy, we treated about 2500 patients, sometimes traveling by boat, at other times driving across muddy and slippery roads. In Nepal, we treated over 3500 patients in the worst affected Sindhupalchowk district, and the risk to our team was very real as after-shocks continued throughout the time we were in Nepal. In fact, one of our teams was hit by the second earthquake and two team members suffered minor injuries. There is a substantial physical risk involved while working in these areas.

 

At a camp during Nepal earthequake relief work

I would like to thank the brave doctors and support staff who risked their lives to help others in need, and the ground and logistic support provided by ‘Gayatri Parivar’ that made it possible for us to contribute in these times of distress.

 

 

How has the overall medical fraternity responded to your efforts towards the Hindu cause?

There is an increasing number of doctors who are aware of these issues. Most of their activism is online due to various reasons. I would like to see more of them come forward to join the action on ground.


In conclusion, what is your appeal to our readers for the cause of protecting Hindu temples, considering its importance as a central institution for Hindu consciousness?

Invaders destroyed temples with the hope that we would leave Hinduism and adopt their religion. They succeeded in destroying native religions across Europe and across every continent using this method. We remain the only country in history that did not succumb to their assault. However, the present assault on our temples is equally insidious and dangerous.

Apart from the numerous scams, we also have the problem of various “activists” threatening to constantly disrupt age-old traditions of the temples, such as what the atheist-feminist activism in Shani Shingnapur and Guruvayoor Temple. In Madhya Pradesh, similar activism is leading to devotees not being allowed to do ‘abhishek’ of the deity on the ground that the material used for abhishek is damaging the murti.

Hindu Aikya Vedi workers sit-in and devotees and lock temple from inside to prevent takeover of administration of Parthasarathy Temple, Guruvayoor, by police and officials of the Malabar Devaswom Board, following a Kerala High Court order (Source: Manorama Online)

The institutions are being misused and abused without being physically destroyed, milennia-old practices being disrupted in the name of “social justice” by people who are not devotees of the shrine and who are on a different agenda. Courts too are playing a negative role and restricting practices that have existed for centuries. In Uttarakhand, we have the recent extremely disconcerting circumstance of the Court ordering government control of temples in the state.

Unfortunately, we don’t see what is happening even when it is in plain sight. Or we don’t want to see. But shutting our eyes is not a solution. It is up to the ordinary devotee of the temple to start taking an active interest in its affairs and lead their revival.

In earlier times, the lives of devotees revolved around temples. They were not only the spiritual centres, they also were cultural, economic and social concentration points, that acted in various capacities from giving loans to the needy to lands for cultivation to poor farmers, from storing grains to storing books. Temples enabled the creation of some of the most scintillating art, architecture, dance and sculpture ever made by humans. Our goal, our dream should be to restore our temples to their former glory. We owe it to our ancestors, our culture and our Dharma.

Take time out from work and give it to working on ground for revival of Sanātana Dharma to whatever extent and in whichever way you consider appropriate. If we don’t, it will die out and with it will perish the last remaining great ancient civilization, killed by our own neglect.

Cover Picture: Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India (Source: Sanjeev Sabhlok)


By: Dr Amit Thadani in an interview with Swapnil Hasabnis

Published: July 15, 2018

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Jagrit Bharat is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Jagrit Bharat and Jagrit Bharat does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.