A day after the chief priest of the Tirumala Venkateshwara temple, AV Ramana Deekshitulu, accused its administrators of swindling money, the ruling Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh has claimed that the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party were behind the allegations.

“Powerful forces in Delhi are behind Deekshitulu’s allegations regarding siphoning of temple funds and destruction of temple sanctity by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams,” TDP leader Vemuri Ananda Surya was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam is an independent trust that manages the temple.

Surya added that Deekshitulu’s allegations were part of the BJP’s attempt to gain control over every institution across the country. “It recently tried to bring the Tirumala temple under the purview of Archaeological Survey of India, but backtracked fearing a reprisal from devotees,” he said.

The Centre and Andhra Pradesh have been at loggerheads over the latter’s demand for special status for months now. Protesting leaders from the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress had disrupted proceedings in Parliament all through the Budget Session in March-April. The row had even led to the TDP walking out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

Deekshitulu, at a press conference in Chennai on Tuesday, alleged that since the Andhra Pradesh government “took over the reins” of the temple 22 years ago, an inventory of the jewellery that adorns the deity has not been made. He called for an audit of donations that the temple receives and how it was being spent. He also demanded a probe into the alleged financial irregularities.

He also alleged that the authorities were damaging the temple structure by drilling holes into the walls and the floors and did not allow officials of Archaeological Survey of India “to enter the temple”. Deekshitulu added that special lines were made for VVIPs and traditional privileges of priests had been removed.

Responding to these allegations, Surya, who is also the chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh Brahmin Parishad, asked, “Why did he go to Chennai and address a press conference arranged by BJP leaders? What was the hidden agenda in speaking against the TTD only after the constitution of the new trust board? Has he found irregularities only in the last four years of TDP rule?”

“I wonder why he did not raise the issue during the Congress regime between 2004 and 2014,” he added. “This clearly shows that Deekshitulu is a pawn in large scale conspiracy by the Centre to destabilise Andhra Pradesh and gain control over the state in connivance with the YSR Congress.”

Retirement age for priests

The newly-constituted Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Board of Trustees, which met for the first time in Tirumala on Wednesday, decided to retire priests who have crossed 65 years of age. If implemented, Deekshitulu and more than two dozen others, including some hereditary priests, will lose their jobs, The Hindu reported.

Deekshitulu claimed this was in response to his allegations, and told The New Indian Express that he would move the court against the decision.