Issue :   
February 2020 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Feb' 2020


Babas call the shots ?

Mamtha Sharma from Bengaluru

Vachanananda Swami and B S Yediyurappa The recent drama following the threat issued by a Lingayat mutt head to chief minister B S Yediyurappa in the event he failed to induct a few ministers from the community in the proposed cabinet reshuffle , has riled politicians and other spiritual leaders alike.
While, not surprisingly, Yediyurappa himself reacted sharply , giving a piece of his mind to the seer, the fact is the spectacle only went on to highlight the interdependence of religion and politics in Karnataka, especially where heads of religious mutths are involved.
The common refrain , of course, has been that the seer overreached his authority and status while interfering in matters of the state, aided by the fact that the BJP depends heavily on the Lingayat votes, with Yediyurappa himself hailing from the community . Seeing the outrage, the seer concerned was prompt in apologising subsequently for his behaviour.

Yet , for keen observers of state politics the development does not come as a surprise. This is because it is quite common for politicians here to approach the seers of different communities on the eve of ministry formation or just before assembly or Lok Sabha polls,ostensibly to seek their blessings.

Generally, a section of the seers has also thought nothing of seeking to influence those in power to favour their candidates, with the incident relating to Yediyurappa being the most recent even if the manner in which it was done, raised serious concern.

For the record, the Panchamasali Lingayat sect’s young seer V a c h a n a n d a Swami had t h r e a t e n e d Yediyurappa that his government would face the wrath of the community if a former minister was not accommodated in the proposed cabinet reshuffle. Y e d i y r u a p p a ’ s sharp reaction to the threat is now too well known to bear repetition.

For the record, the Panchamasali Lingayat sect’s young seer Vachananda Swami had threatened Yediyurappa that his government would face the wrath of the community if a former minister was not accommodated in the proposed cabinet reshuffle. Yediyruappa’s sharp reaction to the threat is now too well known to bear repetition.

Importantly, it is not uncommon for those in power to receive such requests, in a subtle way, from different mutths, albeit not in public, whenever politicians visit them. Witness, therefore, the manner in which H D Kumaraswamy, his father and former Prime Minister, Deve Gowda, Siddaramiah , or for that matter, Yediyurappa, keep visiting different seers at the drop of a hat, keeping , of course, their own convenience in mind.

Importantly, the politicians, when in power, have also been known to bestow their largesse by granting huge tracts of land to the mutths, usually for setting up educational institutes. In short, the association obviously has deeper roots, with both needing each other.

H D Kumaraswamy and H D Deve Gowda In fact, early last year, a section of the seers from the Vokkaligga community had thought nothing of warning the opposition that its attempts to destabilise the H D Kumaraswamy- led coalition government, would not be accepted. For the record, Kumaraswamy hails from the Vokkaligga community.
Significantly, considering the fact that the seers of different communities command a large but faithful following, the politicians, whether from the state or the Centre, normally, take extreme care not to annoy them. In fact, a leading scribe recounts the time when BJP’s central leader, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress were vying to seek the blessings of the seers from different communities during the assembly and Lok Sabha polls in 2018 and 2019, respectively..

Siddaramiah On one occasion, Amit Shah had to postpone plans to visit a leading Kuruba seer who preferred instead to meet Rahul Gandhi considering that he was going along with Siddaramiah, former Congress chief minister and a Kuruba to boot.
This apart, during Siddaramiah’s tenure when a major controversy broke out over the grant of minority status to the Lingayat community, spearheaded by Congress leader and minister, M B Patil, Amit Shah found himself bracing for trouble while visiting the state. More so as majority of the Lingayat seers thought nothing of going public to support the call for a minority status, even holding the BJP at the Centre responsible for not acceding to the demand. Accordingly ,it was not uncommon to hear some of them threatening the BJP of severe consequences should it fail to oblige.

M B Patil and Amit Shah In this context, Amit Shah found himself in a piquant situation after he accused the C o n g r e s s government of d o u b l e standards. He had argued that the state government had not bothered to raise the demand when its own party was ruling the Centre. The Lingayat seers favouring the demand for a minority status were obviously not pleased.
As a matter of fact, when Shah went to seek the blessings of a leading Lingayat seer, he was surprised to receive a memorandum from him for grant of minority status to the community. To that extent, Yedirurappa’s recent experience only highlights the fast strengthening thread between politics and religion in the state.

This leads to a more important question. Is Karnataka alone in witnessing the interdependence of religion and politics ? Judging from the clout exercised by different gurus and babas in New Delhi, for one, the answer is not far to seek. A case in point being the growing clout of Baba Ramdev in the corridors of power. One local paper here even claimed that aspirants for tickets during elections were not averse to tapping influential godmen for help.

Dhirendra Brahmachari Yogi Adityanath Even in the late sixties and early seventies, for that matter, the influence exercised by yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari during Congress rule, was something the papers never tired of highlighting. In fact, he was known as a man who had no official standing yet enjoyed immense power, with critics even referring to the dhoti clad jet setting yogi as the most controversial figure in the Indira Gandhi camp.
In recent days, however, the interconnection relating to politics and religion has become more emphatic following the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It is , therefore, not surprising to hear Yediyurappa’s critics blaming the BJP itself for bringing religion into politics ,while defending the Lingayat seer who, they argue,was only following the script prepared by the politicians.

Perhaps, they are taking the cue from what the just - annointed BJP president, J P Nadda, told the Swaminarayan sect in Vadodra recently. The PTI had quoted him as saying that politics was meaningless without religion and that “ Rajniti hamesha dharma ke sath chalti hai.”