Mutts and pontiffs in Karnataka wield an enormous influence over the voting pattern of their respective communities / followers in general and over the constituencies where they located in particular. Endorsement of a particular candidate by the seer of these Mutts is considered as a pointer towards consolidating votes of a particular community.
The mutts in Karnataka are caste-based and centered around a pontiff, in whom a lot of power is vested, their influence is usually restricted to a few districts (some have a wider sphere of influence). These mutts are different from modern day pan-Indian religious or spiritual institutions like those founded by Baba Ramdev, Mata Amritanandamayi or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
The Siddaganga Mutt in Tumakuru is one of the oldest and the most important Lingayat institution in the state, headed by ShivakumaraSwami. The Suttur Mutt in Mysuru is another illustrious institution revered by Lingayats.
About 400 mutts are affiliated with ShivakumaraSwami, the seer’s endorsement will guarantee the electoral backing of the community.
With prominent political leaders’ belonging to the Lingayat community, part of BJP, the mutt have traditionally ensured that the Lingayats vote en bloc for the BJP. The Lingayat community comprises 17 per cent of the state’s population.
The Karnataka cabinet’s decision to give a separate minority religion status to Lingayats has been openly welcomed by many mutts. However, it remains to be seen how this issue will play out politically on May 12, 2018.
Sri Kshetra Adichunchanagiri
The Adichunchanagiri Mutt is a prominent Vokkaliga mutt and crucial to both the national parties.
Vokkaligas have traditionally voted for JD(S) as the party is headed by the Gowdas, who belong to this community. The Vokkaligas account to good 12 per cent population in the state and spread predominantly in the districts of Old Mysururegion. An endorsement from the seer of this mutt will certainly help swing the votes. Hence, all political parties make a beeline to the seer of the mutt – Nirmalanandanatha Swami — in the run-up to elections.
Senior BJP leaders, including party national president, union ministers and even UP Chief Minister have visited the Swamiji recently.
Kaginele Kanaka Gurupeetha
The third most politically dominant community in the state is Kurubas, who make up eight per cent of the state population.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, himself a Kuruba, has had a long standing support of the community’s central mutt, Kaginele Kanaka Gurupeetha in Haveri.
The members of the Kuruba community hold this mutt in high esteem. According to an article in an English daily, the reasons why Siddaramaih was able to emerge as an undisputed Kuruba leader was due to the seer’s endorsement.
Sri Machideva Mahasamsthana Mutt
Seer BasavaMachideva Swami of Sri MachidevaMahasamsthana Mutt is supported by the Madiga community. The seer has been fighting for the Dalit rights. This has transformed him into a revered religious leader by the community.
Along with the Madiga community, the underrepresented sub-caste in the Scheduled Tribe category are also loyal to the seer. The Dalit community’s votes in Chitradurga and central Karnataka districts depends largely on Basava Machideva Swami’s endorsement.
The other prominent religious entities whose endorsement of a candidate / party yields political benefits is the Madara Channaiah Peeta and Banjara Guru Peeta in Chitradurga district.
According to media reports, around 70% of Karnataka’s population is associated with mutts spreading across 30 districts.
Lingayat, Vokkaliga and Kuruba communities have traditionally been politically powerful in Karnataka.
These are the vote banks. Appeasing a seer means attracting votes of that particular community followers.
As election fever sets in, the influential mutts in Karnataka become the epicenters of hectic political activities. All three major political parties in fray have started lobbying with some of these institutions, as their backing provides the much-needed legitimacy to the candidates.
Influence and legitimacy may necessarily not flow in one direction. Harish Ramaswamy, a political science faculty at the Karnatak University, Dharwad, had said that the pontiff of the Moorusavir mutt in Dharwad had to abdicate for a brief period after a political battle broke out over choosing his successor. Two political leaders were said to have canvassed for different candidates, which forced the seer to step down.
The influence of the powerful mutts has been eroded off late due to emergence of newer mutts catering to specific castes.
TB Jayachandra, state’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs minister, said mutts share aconnect with people of particular areas that is beyond politics. “Visiting mutts is a signal to the people that their sentiments are respected. It is not that this will result in more votes. But not visiting a mutt can send the wrong message to the followers of that order.”
Whatever and however the political leaders may put across their relationship with the mutts, there certainly is a lot of prestige and honour attached to the backing of some of the big mutts, like the Siddaganga or Suttur or Adichunchanagiri.
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