By M.K. Ashoka
Bengaluru, Mar 26 (IANS): Unlike other states, in Karnataka religious maths and pontiffs play an important role in elections. Be it the agitation for reservations, protest over non-fulfilment of demands, religious or caste pontiffs take centrestage and lead the masses.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have visited the important maths and sought the blessings of the pontiffs of the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities ahead of the elections.
Whenever former chief minister and BJP Central Parliamentary Board member B.S. Yediyurappa was asked to resign from the post during his stint as the CM, the pontiffs hit the streets and staged protests.
When Yediyurappa was jailed, a well known swamiji even went to the prison to comfort him and later a series of pontiffs visited him when he was hospitalised.
Recently, the pictures of Rahul Gandhi with rape accused Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru of Chitradurga Murugha Math went viral. The accused pontiff, still in prison and slapped with POCSO and Atrocity charges, taught Rahul Gandhi how to carry out "Ista Linga" worship. This embarrassed the Congress party.
Sources said that it was an attempt by the Congress party to make inroads into the Lingayat votebank. When a majority of the Lingayat mutts supported the BJP, the Murugha seer stood with the Congress and also took part in the padyatra for the Mekedatu project. The Congress has now distanced itself from the pontiff.
The prominent Lingayat maths in the state, including the Siddaganga Mutt of Tumkur, from the time of the late Shivakumara Swamiji to the present Siddalinga Swamiji, supported Yediyurappa and the Lingayat leadership.
The Mysuru JSS Mutt, Sirigere Taralabalu Math, Hubballi Moorusavira Mutt and the Koppal Gavi Mutt played an important role in providing free education and shelter to thousands of children. They have a large number of devotees cutting across caste lines. They also play an important role in elections, influencing a large number of constituencies in the region.
Udupi Pejawar Mutt pontiff Vishwaprasanna Tirtha Swamiji has been vocal in raising Hindutva concerns. The reservation movement by a Lingayat sub-sect is spearheaded by Jayamrutynjaya Swamiji. The BJP is bearing the brunt of the movement and struggling to keep its vote bank intact.
Journalist Asha Krishnaswamy told IANS that no government has ever dared to conduct a land audit of religious institutions. No Enforcement Directorate or Income Tax raids are conducted on these institutions because a majority of them are power brokers.
"They indirectly support the illegal activities of influential people. They know how to influence their community members, in particular voters," she said.
Dharma should be part and parcel of every walk of life. Unfortunately, dharma has taken a back seat, while many people donning saffron and white robes and sitting in so-called holy places have turned into CEOs, she added.
Their role in the business of politics is on the rise. They control the elected representatives and ensure that their vested interest files are put on a fast track for clearance. Of course, there are also a number of seers who serve as beacons of knowledge, she stated.
If daily wage earners hit the streets demanding increased wages, the ministers may take note of it or give a political spin to the agitation to disperse them. But when the pontiffs issue a statement in the media, the government becomes alert, Krishnaswamy opined.
The best example is the demand for higher reservations for Panchamasali Lingayats by a section of Veerashaiva mutt heads. They are not just exerting pressure; they are arm-twisting those in positions of power, not to benefit their community or society, but to become power centres. Powerful seers even play an active role in cabinet formation. It is rare to see pontiffs taking up the cause of society. Spreading spirituality is far from their agenda, she claimed.
"This pitiable situation exists because a majority of the so-called religious leaders have occupied prime positions. They are into building educational institutions and hospitals, for which they need acres of land and money. So they keep in the good books of politicians," she said.
Progressive thinker Basavaraj Sulibhavi told IANS, "there are systematic attempts to mix politics with religion these days. This has been done by one political organization. Politics and religion becoming deciding factors for each other is against the principles of democracy and the Constitution."
A political party released funds to maths to attract them to its fold. The funds should be utilized to help the people, to create infrastructure. But funds are systematically diverted to religious mutts in Karnataka. The trend has been increasing in the past two to three decades, Sulibhavi added.