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Political tension engulfs foundation stone ceremony at Andhra's Ramateertham temple

Tension prevailed at Ramateertham temple in Andhra Pradesh's Vizianagaram district on Wednesday when former Union Minister P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju tried to remove the plaque installed to lay foundation stone for reconstruction of the temple.

Raju, a trustee of the temple, and other leaders of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) entered into an argument with the officials and tried to remove the plaque.

The incident occurred a few minutes before the foundation stone laying ceremony on the Ramateertham hill near fort city of Vizianagaram.

Deputy Chief Minister P. Pushpa Srivani, Endowments Minister V. Srinivas and others later laid the foundation stone for the temple.

Raju, a TDP politburo member, was apparently angry over his name being written at the bottom of the plaque. He alleged that the state government ignored the protocol and also violated tradition and culture. He said the temple committee was not consulted before deciding the foundation stone ceremony.

Raju also turned down the invitation to break the coconut at the ceremony. He argued that only the trustee was supposed to perform puja and lay the foundation stone.

Raju's family had been functioning as trustees of the temple for the last 400 years.

The temple was in news in December last year after unidentified persons vandalised a 400-year-old idol of Lord Rama, triggering massive protest by the opposition parties.

The YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government had refused to accept Raju's donation of Rs 1 lakh for the reconstruction of the temple.

Meanwhile, state ministers slammed the TDP leader for creating ruckus at the temple. Endowments Minister V. Srinivas reiterated that the state government is committed towards the development of Ramateertham temple.

The minister said that Ashok Gajapathi Raju created chaos by forcibly removing the plaque which had the names of minister and government officials engraved on it as per the protocol. He said that the latter wanted to make a donation under a clause to use it for idols but the officials refused it as the idols are being offered by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) free of cost.

The minister stated that the TDP leader intentionally went on rampage although he was formally invited by the temple EO and other officials to the foundation stone laying ceremony. He said that action would be taken against Raju. He mentioned that the temple was deeply neglected during the previous government and questioned Raju about what he had done for the development of Ramateertham all these years.

Mansas Trust plundered the government lands and neglected the development of the temples, which is why the state government had sanctioned Rs 3 crore for Ramateertham temple, he said, adding that the government installed new idols and also sanctioned Rs 1 crore for the development works.

Meanwhile, Minister for Municipal Administration Botsa Satyanarayana dared Ashok Gajapati Raju to answer why the government had to sanction Rs 3 crore when the Ramateertham temple development was a matter for the Mansas Trust and why he did not spend the money from Mansas Trust on temple development. "Isn't he responsible for the development of the temple as the temple chairman," he asked.

He said that such a rampage has never happened in Vizianagaram district in years, not even when the YSRCP leaders were in the opposition.

He said that Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had intended to develop Kodanda Ramalaya in Ramateertham as the second Bhadradri temple and the government has sanctioned the funds. The government has taken steps to preserve the culture and traditions but people like Ashok are obstructing good deeds.

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