Why are Uttarakhand priests protesting against Modi's Kedarnath visit?
Priests in Uttarakhand have threatened to stage a protest if they cannot meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his upcoming visit to Kedarnath. The priests are protesting against the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board, which was established as an umbrella body to regulate shrines and temples. They demand that the contentious board be quashed as it "infringes on their religious rights."
- PM Modi will be visiting the Kedarnath shrine on November 5 where he will unveil a statue of Adi Shankaracharya.
- He will also lay the foundation for multiple developmental projects at the shrine suburb.
- The high-profile visit will provide a wider platform for the concerns of the pilgrimage priests, who have been protesting since the board was constituted in January 2020.
The protesting priests say they will boycott the PM's visit and even lie down at the helipad to prevent him from landing. Uttarakhand priests that ThePrint spoke to said that they will stage a strike and show black flags to the PM.
Char Dham Tirth Purohit Hak-Hakuk Maha Panchayat President and Badrinath shrine priest KK Kotiyal told ThePrint that the law "infringes on our religious rights but deprives the (pilgrimage priests) the ownership of their properties in the temple campuses under the purview of the board." Kotiyal said the law allows the Devasthanam board to seize properties owned by them, including their homes.
The priests said they were not consulted before the law was framed. Earlier this month, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had asked them to pause the protests until October 30, but "nothing has happened so far," said Kedarnath Sabha President Vinod Shukla.
The state government had introduced the Uttarakhand Char Dham Shrine Management Bill in December 2019. In January 2020, the bill became a law and the board was constituted with the CM as the chairperson, the state Culture Minister as the chairperson, and the Chief Secretary as ex-officio members. The board manages the affairs of 51 temples across Uttarakhand.
"There is a strong provision in the board act to keep their (priests') religious and land rights safe," Uttarakhand Tourism and Culture Minister Satpal Maharaj told ThePrint. Maharaj said the priests have no reason to oppose the board and Modi's visit. "Those protesting have not been able to tell the government what provision they are opposed to in Devasthanam Board law," he added.