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Kanchi Mutt should resume focus on social outreach
Kanchi Mutt should resume focus on social outreach
After a long ordeal the two Shankaracharyas of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt have been vindicated. The sessions court of Puducherry dismissed the case of the prosecution seeking to implicate Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swami in the murder of Sankararaman.

The high profile case was filed by the earlier AIADMK government (2001-06), arresting the Shankaracharyas as also implicating several other functionaries of this centuries’ old mutt and freezing the accounts of the mutt. In line with the record of the judiciary, the case extended to nine years during which time the mutt and the pontiffs suffered incalculable damage.

Hindus, unlike their counterparts in Islam and Christianity, in India are not a homogenous community. Thus, there was no spirited rallying. From Karunanidhi to Kamal Haasan there are proclaimed ‘rationalists’ (atheists) who never miss an opportunity to be critical of the Hindu pantheons and beliefs. So, except for some spirited organisations in the north, the home state of the Shankaracharya did not witness any organised protest over the denigration of this vulnerable institution and its heads. Remember the respect commanded by the earlier pontiff Paramacharya Chandrasekarendra Saraswati by a vast cross section of leaders from every section, including Indira Gandhi and Nani Palkhivala?


He pulled the mutt out of mere religious concerns…

For decades, the mutt had followers largely in the Brahmin community. To Sri Jayendra Saraswati should go the credit for pulling the mutt out of being solely a religious outfit; he massively expanded its social outreach and involved the mutt in a range of social activities covering education and public health, pan India. The followings he commanded in the northern and western parts of India, in a short span of two decades, was phenomenal. Remember the spirit with which Sri Jayendra galvanised different communities and actively sought to find a solution to the Ram Janma Bhoomi issue where he interacted freely with not just political leaders of various hues but also with a vast range of Muslim clergy and leaders? The jet-setting pontiff was over-exerting himself in taking up issues of national concern.


Thrust on education, public health, social out-reach…

It appears the Shankaracharya modeled his approach on that of Christian missionaries. He used his influence over very considerable followers in positions of power in the government, banks, professionals, businessmen, et al, to acquire several institutions at modest cost. The Child Trust Hospital was the earliest of these. Soon followed the Wellington Hospital, which was later handed to Sankara Nethralaya. A more ambitious acquisition was the sprawling Tamil Nadu Hospitals, which became sick. The mutt negotiated the acquisition from the lenders on favourable terms. Another such bold and ambitious project was the setting up of a medical college in Tirupathi in collaboration with Sri Venkateswara University. Sprawling land area spread over 100 acres was acquired and rich building infrastructure was created for a large medical college. These are all in addition to the Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Viswa Mahavidyalaya, a university for higher education the mutt had set up at Kancheepuram. It indeed was an amazing period of enterprise when Sri Jayendra Saraswati went on a spree of acquisitions,facilely mobilising the needed resources form a rapidly increasing number of followers.

Rich acquisitions, poor management…

Sadly, however, this pace of acquisition was not matched by focused attention to high quality management demanded for effectively administering these institutions. Look at the course of events:

Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Viswa Mahavidyalaya has not made a mark as a prestigious institution expected of it. The tenure of vice chancellors was short, most of them were not well known academics and were picked up from industry. There were widespread complaints of interference in administration. Thus after decades the university is ranked low among the 560 odd engineering colleges in the state.

   Despite the NRI Velusamy and his team putting in a lot of efforts, the Tamil Nadu Hospitals did not take off. The mutt could not do much to improve the working of the hospitals despite acquiring it cheap. Obviously it was no match to the fomidable and centrally located Apollo Hospitals. The one silver lining was the vast land area owned by the company. The mutt sold off the property for a song.

Equally sad was the experiment with the medical college. The mutt got several favourable and attractive concessions from the Andhra Pradesh government. But the long legal battle sapped its energy. Last year the mutt sold off the project to a leading entrepreneur in Tamil Nadu higher education; again for a song.


Absence of professional leadership…

Two decades ago I had drawn the attention of the mutt to the vital link missing in its activities: the absence of strong professionals to manage its huge assets as also its sophisticated institutions. Instead, the attempt was to manage these with the voluntary services of mostly retired senior citizens. There was no dearth of such consultants that included senior bureaucrats. But at best these could proffer advice and cannot do full time service. The very complex nature of administering the vastly increasing resources of the mutt demanded professional management of high calibre. I recalled the success of the Sringeri mutt in running dozens of such institutions administered by the chief executive, the highly qualified and respected, Gowrishankar.

    I had also suggested a more scientific system of accounting cash received in large volumes. The absence of this led to suspicion over leakages. A venerated institution, like Ceasar’s wife, must be above suspicion. The vulnerabilities surfaced soon after the arrest of the Shankaracharyas with the government freezing the mutt’s accounts.

I hope and wish the mutt re-engages itself with new vigour expanding its range of social services. Sri Jayendra Saraswati worked hard in this direction. The temporary setback should not deter him from the pursuit of this precious aspect of the mutt’s work. Just look at the proliferation of the churches and mosques along with the plethora of service organisations built on handsome donations! Why don’t we see a similar flourish of such institutions promoted by Hindu mutts and other religious institutions?


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