Karnataka Mutts: The silent power centres this general elections

Mutts play key role in bringing Hindu votes where there is no cohesion between castees and communities.
A file picture of BJP national president Amit Shah taking blessings from Suttur mutt seer, ahead of Karnataka Assembly elections | PTI
A file picture of BJP national president Amit Shah taking blessings from Suttur mutt seer, ahead of Karnataka Assembly elections | PTI

BENGALURU: Mutt hopping in Karnataka during elections is pretty common with leaders, who are awaiting to grab the eyeballs of seers as it means tacit support of a caste or community.Though candidates of all three political parties have sought the blessings of many a powerful mutt spanning across Karnataka, it has been a silent, behind-the-scenes affair this time around.

Unlike the 2018 assembly elections, where Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi vied with one another to include mutt visits amid their long campaign trails, this time, such open demonstration of blessings and obeisance is not all that visible.A few Central and state leaders, with candidates in tow in south interior and central districts, have quietly sought the blessings of seers of Sringeri, Pejawar, Tumkur, Suttur, Adichunchunagiri, Murugharajendra and others, but the gung-ho seems to be missing this time around. 

Recently, Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman was seen with BJP candidate from Chikkamagaluru-Udupi offering prayers at Sri Krishna Mutt in Udupi.Come elections, most mutt heads await the visit of prominent leaders. However, they have never openly displayed their preference for any party. If former prime minister Deve Gowda regularly seeks blessings of Sringeri Mutt, his son and Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is not far behind with visiting temples and mutts in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. He was often seen at Adichunchungiri Mutt, sources say.

While some state Congress leaders also brought in their candidates before mutts to seek blessings, it was not such an open affair.However, political analysts say this is all a ‘drama’ as no election in Karnataka can be free from the influence of religious mutts, especially Lingayats. Each mutt owing allegiance to a particular caste — Lingayats, Vokkaligas or Kurubas, they have a role to play – sometimes openly, but mostly wielding power behind the scenes.

The intrusion of religious identities have been all pervasive in the state since Ramakrishna Hegde’s time. Further, in the background of Supreme Court order on reservation for upper castes, most mutts in Karnataka are silently trying to influence local leaders.

Analyst Ratnakar Joshi said, “All meetings between party leaders and seers started around March, just after the poll calendar of events were announced. With the emergence of Lingayat mutts as power centres since early 1980s, the seers have demonstrated their loyalties towards particular parties, though not openly. This has become so synonymous that JD(S) is identified with Vokkaligas, BJP with Lingayats and Congress with Kurubas and other communities. In fact, some political leaders have openly encouraged the politico-religious tie-up.”

A seer preferring anonymity said that in the absence of cohesion among various castes and communities, it is necessary for mutts to play a role in the consolidation of Hindu votes. Unlike Muslims and Christians, who are united and follow their religious diktats, the majority vote is divided and therefore, some percentage of consolidation is possible if seers play a role, he said.

Mutts can influence maybe 8-10 per cent of caste votes, says political analyst Mohan Ram. “There has been no public display of mutt visits by leaders this time. However, with some 8-9 seats having predominant Lingayat vote share and 6-7 seats Vokkaliga vote share and three seats Kuruba strongholds, the influence of mutts may not stretch beyond 10 per cent. Every political party would like to take advantage and garner support from seers.”

Influential Mutts

  • Siddaganga Mutt
  • Suttur Mutt
  • Adichunchungiri Mutt
  • Kanaka guru peeta
  • Madara guru peeta
  • Murugarajendra Brihanmutt
  • Sirigere Taralabalu Brihanmutt
  • Moorusavira Mutt

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