The religious mutts of K'taka: Why appeasing the seers is important for Cong and BJP

Endorsement of a candidate by a seer is considered a sign of consolidating votes in that particular community.
The religious mutts of K'taka: Why appeasing the seers is important for Cong and BJP
The religious mutts of K'taka: Why appeasing the seers is important for Cong and BJP
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Rahul Gandhi, the President of the All India Congress Committee, smiled and interacted with the children at the Sringeri Mutt in Chikkamagaluru district during his one-hour visit on Wednesday.

Rahul Gandhi also spent time talking to the seer Jagadguru Shankaracharya during the visit.

A few months ago, BJP National President Amit Shah was seen bowing to the Nirmalananda Swami, the head of the most important Vokkaliga mutt – the Adichunchanagiri Mutt. Amit Shah was welcomed by the mutt head himself, and the BJP President went on to praise the mutt for its contribution to society.

With elections fast approaching, steady streams of political bigwigs are queuing up to visit the heads of some of the most revered religious mutts in the state. The reason – the perceived power the seers wield to consolidate caste-based vote banks.

Karnataka has several mutts; here is a list of some of the important ones.

Sri Kshetra Adichunchanagiri

In 2017, both Rahul Gandhi and Amit Shah had visited Swami Nirmalananda, head of the Sri Kshetra Adichunchanagiri.

The Adichunchanagiri mutt is important to members of the Vokkaliga community and crucial to both the BJP and the Congress.

“Vokkaligas have traditionally voted for JD(S) because the high command in the party belongs to that community. Vokkaligas form 12% of the population in Karnataka spanning the districts of Old Mysuru region. The subtle endorsement from the seer of this mutt will be able to swing votes. Hence the parties in Karnataka have traditionally visited the seer in the run-up to elections,” a senior Congress leader said.

BJP leaders, including party President Amit Shah, union ministers Prakash Javadekar, Ananth Kumar and Sadananda Gowda, and even UP CM Yogi Adityanath, have visited Swami Nirmalananda.

“There are no good Vokkaliga faces in the party and this was a necessity,” a BJP functionary said.

According to media reports, more than 70% of Karnataka’s population is associated with mutts spanning across its 30 districts.

“These are the vote banks. Appeasing a seer means the said caste vote bank in the area is guaranteed,” the Congress leader added.

Traditionally, the Lingayat, Vokkaliga and Kuruba communities have been politically powerful. The Lingayat community comprises 18% of the population, according to the 2011 Census.

Siddaganga Mutt

The Siddaganga Mutt in Tumakuru, one of the oldest institutions of the community, headed by Swami Shivakumara and the man in-charge Siddalinga Swami, is the most important Lingayat institution in the state. The Suttur Mutt in Mysuru, is also revered by Lingayats.

With over 400 mutts being affiliated with Swami Shivakumara, the seer’s endorsement would guarantee the votes of the community.

“Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat and with him being the BJP’s face in Karnataka, the mutt has traditionally ensured that the Lingayat vote banks have mostly rooted for the BJP,” the BJP functionary said.

However, the mutt has openly welcomed the Karnataka cabinet’s decision to give a separate religion status to Lingayats. It remains to be seen if this endorsement would also extend to the Congress when it comes to votes.

Kaginele Kanaka Gurupeetha

The Kurubas, who make up 8% of the population, are the third most politically dominant community in the state.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who belongs to this community, has had the support of the community’s central mutt, Kaginele Kanaka Gurupeetha in Haveri for a long time.

“All members of the Kuruba community hold the mutt in great respect. One of the reasons why Siddaramaiah was able to emerge as the Kuruba leader was due to the seer’s endorsement,” Congress sources say.

Sri Machideva Mahasamsthana Mutt

This mutt’s seer Basava Machideva Swami is supported by the Madiga community. The seer’s fight for Dalit rights has propelled him as someone who is revered by the community, Congress insiders say.

“In Chitradurga and central districts, the Dalit community’s votes depend on Basava Machideva Swami’s endorsement. It is not just the Madiga community but the underrepresented sub-castes in the Scheduled Tribe category are also loyal to the seer. This is very important to win the Dalit and Adivasi votes in the region,” the source added.

The Madara Channaiah Peeta and Banjara Guru Peeta in Chitradurga district, which has the support of the Dalit and Adivasi voters, are also prominent religious entities whose endorsement of a candidate is considered a sign of consolidating votes.

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