Every time elections are approaching in Karnataka, politicians from opposing parties line up to meet with the heads of powerful mutts to obtain the blessings of their chief pontiffs. This sends a clear message to their followers about which religious leader they favour.
One such organisation is the Murugharajendra Mutt in Chitradurga. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which receives a lot of support from the Lingayat community, is a Lingayat institution known as the Chitradurga mutt. Nearly 17–18% of the electorate in Karnataka are Lingayats.
When one enters the mutt, one immediately notices the framed portraits of former Karnataka chief ministers and prime ministers that are displayed in the chief pontiff Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru’s meeting room. Sharanaru is currently charged in a POCSO case.
“The BJP has taken a strategic dual line. The people in the government said that the law will take its own course, while those outside the party said the pontiff was a prominent person who had done much for society in terms of social service. The party will keep its options open and ensure they say that as per the requirements of the law, they have booked him. Those in power will wait for the direction the case takes and as per the stand of the judiciary calibrate their strategy accordingly,” Shastri said.
Shastri said: “One should remember there are rivals of the Swami who are equally powerful among the Lingayats. There is also an increased awareness that something appears to have gone wrong on the part of the chief pontiff (mutt). It won’t be surprising if the followers of the mutt continue to stand by the mutt and favour action against the guilty.”
Along with party officials DK Shivakumar and KC Venugopal, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party, paid a visit to the Murugha Math in Chitradurga earlier this month. A vast list of politicians are known to frequently visit the Murugha Mutt, which is also regarded as a significant institution. Gandhi received the “Lingadeekshe” from the pope as well, which is a formal invitation to join the Lingayat sect.