Today, Amit Shah’s visit to the Siddhaganga Math in Tumakuru, Karnataka, carries a lot of significance in the context of the political development of an influential Lingayat religious institution, especially in the state.
Shah Sri Shivakumar will attend the 115th birth anniversary of her husband, popularly known as the ‘Walking God’ for the social services rendered to the people through the Mutt administration. Shri Shivakumar Swami died in 2019 at the age of 111 years and the reins of the monastery have been taken over by Shri Siddalinga Swami.
Shah’s visit is seen as an open message from the BJP’s central leadership to the Lingayat community that the party will continue to support the community and its aspirations.
The purpose of this confidence-building exercise is to dispel any misconceptions in the Lingayat community after the party replaces BS Yeddyurappa with Basavaraj Bomai as Chief Minister. Lingayats constitute about 17% of the population of Karnataka and Yeddyurappa is considered as one of the tallest leaders of the community.
Incidentally, Yeddyurappa and his son Vijayendra Tumakuru were the main organizers of the ‘Walking God’ birth anniversary celebrations.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Siddhaganga Math on Thursday and met Siddhalinga’s husband. Gandhi’s visit is being seen as an attempt by the party to attract the Lingayat community ahead of the 2023 state assembly elections.
Strong monastery of Karnataka
Karnataka has more than 500 motas and more than a dozen of them are considered to be influential. In recent years, a number of Mutt or religious organizations have begun to publicly support a particular politician or party, with some even supporting candidates, campaigning for them, and others lobbying for party tickets.
The religious leaders of these monasteries represent different communities, such as the Lingayat, the Vocaligas, and other backward nations. These religious institutions are known for their extensive work in providing food, education and employment to the socially and economically backward people.
It is a common practice in Karnataka for leaders across the party line to visit the moots of different communities, especially those of Lingayat and Vokkaligas, the two main upper caste groups in the state.
About 17% of the state’s population is Lingayat and Vokkaligara is about 15%. Politicians visit these two influential communities to garner party support, especially during elections.
Shah’s visit to Tumakuru Math is being seen as a step by the BJP towards garnering support from Lingayats in the state ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
BS Yeddyurappa effect
In July last year, pressure was put on BJP leaders to replace 78-year-old Yeddyurappa as chief minister. The party’s ‘unwritten’ rule to promote all leaders over the age of 75 to the ‘Guidance Panel’ does not seem to apply to Yeddyurappa because he was the longest and most beloved politician of the Lingayat community. At the age of 78, Yeddyurappa continued as chief minister, but allegations of corruption and high-handedness by his son Vijayendra began to surface in the administration, including the transfer of bureaucrats.
Unable to ignore the growing allegations, the BJP’s central leadership persuaded Yeddyurappa to step down as chief minister. Lingayat Mutt leaders were unhappy with the move to replace Yeddyurappa, who is still the tallest leader in the community. The heads of all the Lingayat Maths in Karnataka unanimously appealed to the BJP central leadership not to replace Yeddyurappa, a support that no other leader of the party has enjoyed to date.
This is also a big reason why Yeddyurappa was able to contact and persuade the BJP central leadership to make Basavaraj Bomai his successor. Yeddyurappa’s choice was made to ensure that the Lingayat votebank remained intact and did not further upset the community.
Siddhaganga Swami: The most beloved and powerful Lingayat seer
Known as ‘Nadedaduva Devaraja’ or ‘Walking God’ for his humanitarian work, Lingayat Swami played an important role in shaping the future of Karnataka politics. Mutt’s influence was such that leaders across the party line, prime ministers like Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi, sought his blessings from the pope to secure their political future.
A strong proponent of Lingayatism, Shivakumar Swami was born in 1907 and became a monk at the age of 23. The recipient of the Padma Shri was extremely popular especially for his work in the field of education. His tireless work in providing good education and nutrition to students from all socio-economic backgrounds made him popular among the people.
Politicians lined up to receive Poppy’s blessings, “politically influential” Shivakumar’s husband did not publicly side, he was always neutral. Although every time a politician is seen seeking the blessings of the Mutt chief, it is seen as an indirect message to the Lingayats that they have the support of the Siddhaganga Math.
How Moots has influenced the politics of Karnataka
When the BJP opened its account in the south in 2008, Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa famously started his political campaign from this Lingayat Math.
At the top of the controversy over declaring Lingayat as a religion, a statement by the then Congress minister MB Patil claimed that the Siddhaganga seer had approved a separate religion tag for Lingayatism. A letter from the seer’s office dismissing the claim struck a chord with Congress, which gained the tag of trying to break up a community that wanted to remain united.
In 2019, when the HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government began to delay a visit to the Vokkaliga monastery, the leader sent a stern message. The chief seer of the Vokkaliga monastery has issued a veiled warning that any move to destabilize the Kumaraswamy-led government, a Vokkaliga leader, would not be tolerated.
Despite warnings, Kumaraswamy’s government fell after the JD (S) -Congress alliance lost a confidence vote in the state assembly.
Another example of the influence of Siddhaganga Mutt in political decision making was in 2014, when the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in the Karnataka Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill sought to take control of educational institutions run by Mutt and other religious groups. . Viewers across the state opposed the move and the government was forced to drop the bill in 2017 and face voters.
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