MYSURU: Amid speculation over a change of guard to replace Lingayat strongman and Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, trouble erupted from an unexpected quarter — seers from various mutts across the state. This threatens to upset political calculations for the BJP if the party top bosses “betray” Yediyurappa and the dominant Lingayat community. The buzz is that the BJP high command is working out an amicable formula to replace Yediyurappa while ensuring a smooth transition.
The backing of the seers enjoyed by Yediyurappa portrays the power mutts wield in Karnataka politics. The seers have served an ultimatum to the party high command to retain Yediyurappa as CM or ensure that only a Lingayat is chosen as replacement. Sri Prasanna Renuka Veerasomeshwara Shivacharya Swamiji of Rambapuri Peetha said Yediyurappa is the unquestionable leader of the Lingayat community, which will be hurt if he is removed. Shivamurthy Sharanaru of Muruga Mutt said, “If he is disturbed, the party will suffer. He has worked for the development of all castes. So, it is important for him to continue as CM, and we express our solidarity with him.”
Political observers feel this is threatening to usher in a trend of religious heads taking control of the levers of power to shake the very foundation of constitutional democracy, undermining the citizenry and the rights bestowed on them in a parliamentary democracy system, besides undermining the rights of elected party MLAs to choose their new leader.
Yediyurappa is a four-time CM among the 12 CMs in the state so far from the Veerashaiva (Lingayat) community. He has a political career spanning over four decades, and can sense the party high command’s mood, because of which he declared his readiness to obey their instructions, for a smooth change in leadership, if any. But the seers, in no mood to accept a change, have threatened to bring 500 of them to Bengaluru to exert pressure on the party against any such decision.
Karnataka has a long history of mutts having close proximity to political power centres. Erstwhile kings like Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar and Baroda Maharaja Sayaji Gaikawad visited mutts in Sringeri, Tumakuru, among others. Even Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1919) and Mahatma Gandhi (1924) called on the Siddharoodha Mutt seer for guidance, blessings during the freedom struggle and before proceeding for the All India Congress session.
Many were impressed with the mutts following Basava’s philosophy — offering free food, community feeding and developing education in rural areas, lessening the democratically elected governments’ burdens.
This made former PM Indira Gandhi visit Siddaganga Mutt and other mutts in the vicinity, growing in influence during her contest from the Chikkamagalur Lok Sabha seat which gave her political rebirth post Emergency. Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi too strengthened their bridges with mutts, visiting Siddaganga Mutt, JSS Mutt and also a few others in North Karnataka.
Senior BJP leaders A B Vajpayee, L K Advani and others, with Hindutva and nationalistic agenda, were close to Vishwesha Theerta Swami of Pejawar Mutt and had also called on dominant Veerashaiva mutts.
But the Sringeri Sharada Mutt, draws netas from all political denominations and keeps away from interfering in political developments either directly or indirectly. Former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda is one of the most frequent visitors here. A few other mutts too have always maintained a healthy distance from politics.
Successive governments have encouraged the mutts to start educational institutions and hostels and extended them grants, besides sanctioning government land. Late Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde of the then Janata Party kept the mutts in good humour to win over the dominant community in North Karnataka which supported the Congress, encouraging the mutts to enter the higher education sector, and sanctioning medical, engineering and dental colleges. But the Hegde government also came under fire for encouraging capitation fee.
NEW TWIST IN STATE POLITICS
The fractured mandate and strategy to pull down the Congress-led coalition government to form the first JD(S)-BJP government with 20-20 power-sharing agreement started a new chapter in Karnataka politics when the JDS refused to make way for Yediyurappa to become CM in 2008. Yediyurappa, as Finance Minister in the coalition government, announced sops in the form of grants to religious mutts. When H D Kumaraswamy ditched the BJP, the Lingayat strongman hit the streets in protest against the betrayal of the Lingayats and launched a ‘Dharmayuddha’ from the premises of Siddaganga Mutt that got the seers to rally behind him and the BJP.
Yediyurappa helped BJP cross the three-digit figure in the Assembly and formed the government with the support of Independents while doling out more sops to see that the bonding is rock solid. Even when the Karnataka Lokayukta indicted Yediyurappa in the mining cases, leading to his arrest and resignation as CM, he later launched KJP which managed to get 10% votes, reducing BJP’s strength to 40 in the Assembly. The Linagayats and their seers rallied behind him, forcing the BJP top brass to bring back Yediyurappa into the party fold with a free hand to lead the party in the 2018 polls.
In October 2011, when Yediyurappa was jailed, the centenarian seer of Siddaganga Mutt, Sri Shivakumara Swamiji, who was known as the ‘Walking God’, paid a surprise visit to him at the Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research Centre in Bengaluru. The seer was not used to issuing political statements in favour of any politician or party, but his support for Yediyurappa was evident.
Despite, financial constraints, Yediyurappa announced funds liberally for various mutts of all castes that got them to pitch in in his favour.
(With inputs from: Devaraj B Hirehalli; Mahesh Goudar; Raghu Koppar; Udaya Kumar BR; Ramkrishna Badseshi; G Subhash Chandra; Pramodkumar Vaidya and Prakash Samaga)