The Pocso case against Karnataka seer has political ramifications – News9 LIVE

2022-09-02T17:25:37+05:30
Dr Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru is facing charges of sexual abuse by two minor girls. 
The current controversy involving Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, who is facing charges of sexually harassing two minor girls has now become a hot potato for the BJP government ruling in Karnataka. The seer heads a major Lingayat religious centre known as Brihan Mutt in Chitradurga of central Karnataka. The Lingayats are the main electoral base of the BJP in Karnataka.
The delay in arresting the seer has shown up the apprehension of the BJP leadership that action against the seer could lead to an electoral backlash from the Lingayats in the Assembly elections due next May.
The Brihan Mutt is one of the hundreds of religious centres of the Shaivite Lingayat community. Big and small, they are dotted across Karnataka, concentrated mainly in north Karnataka, but also found in central and south Karnataka. Lingayats are a sect pioneered by the 12th-century social reformer Basava.
Lingayats who constitute about 16 per cent of the population are the single largest community, although they are also divided into four major sub-sects. While the major Lingayat Mutt in Karnataka has branched out into education, becoming mega entrepreneurial houses, the smaller mutts continue religious education in vachanas, and collect donations from the locals for feeding free anyone who visits the mutt, in a practice known as “Anna Dasoha” (service through feeding). Some of the major mutt like the Siddaganga Muttoffer free education with hostel facilities for children of all castes and communities and wield enormous social influence.
While their numbers make Lingayats important in the caste matrix in Karnataka, the social loyalty these maths evoke in the Lingayat masses makes it key to the electoral calculus of political parties. The Congress held sway over Lingayats since Independence, and one mistake by a callow Rajiv Gandhi in humiliating and removing Veerendra Patil as chief minister following communal riots in 1990 alienated Lingayats from the Congress, making them move over to the Janata Party.
After the split in the Janata Party, the Lingayats, who were disenchanted with both the Congress and the various avatars of the Janata Party, chose the BJP as the articulator of their political aspirations.
It is an interesting conundrum that while the broad masses of the Lingayats moved over to the BJP, many of the Lingayat Mutt have been secular institutions, with even Muslims as followers, and have espoused social causes. The most well-known case is of the pontiff of the Thontadarya Mutt in Gadag, Siddalinga Swami, who in 2011 led a farmers’ agitation against awarding vast swathes of arable agricultural land to the Korean steel giant Posco, rendering thousands of farming families destitute. The seer’s uncompromising stand forced the then BJP government to drop the plan.
Over the past three decades, BS Yediyurappa has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Lingayats, brought the BJP to power in Karnataka and has been chief minister thrice.
Age and infighting within the BJP have weakened Yediyurappa, but even after his ouster in 2020, he retains a loyal following among the Lingayats, forcing the BJP leadership, which fears his power, to neutralise him by including him in the Parliamentary Board. The Lingayat seers, regardless of the sub-sect they belong to, support Yediyurappa, and had strongly opposed his ouster as chief minister, and had only been appeased by a fellow Lingayat, Basavaraj Bommai, succeeding him.
But elements opposed to Yediyurappa are keen on loosening his hold on the party, and many political observers perceive BJP national organising secretary BL Santosh, a Brahmin, as the prime mover in this campaign. Lingayats leaders, preferring to remain anonymous, believe that the case against the Brihan Mutt is a conspiracy against Lingayats as a political force and Yediyurappa as their unquestioned leader, by besmirching an influential seer of the community.
Their argument is that the anti-Yediyurappa elements within the BJP want to force him to take a stance against any action against the Brihan Mutt seer, which he has done anyhow while portraying the action as law taking its normal course. Another argument they advance is that most of the Lingayat seers were fundamentally against Hindutva, with the Brihan Mutt seer among them. Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru often hobnobbed with liberals even awarding the Basava Prashasti, an award for social service that he instituted in the name of the founder of Lingayatism to many liberal figures including Medha Patkar, Malala Yusufzai, Shabana Azmi, Naxal poet Gaddar, the Dalai Lama among others.
The conspiracy theorists among Lingayats see the controversy involving the seer as a two-pronged attack – one prong attacking Yediyurappa and the Lingayat hegemony within the BJP, the other tarring the liberals as enablers of a tainted seer. They also argue that serious cases of sexual harassment involving Hindu seers, they quote the specific cases of the seer of the Ramachandrapura Mutt, Raghaveshwara Bharathi, who was accused by a woman devotee of raping her, not being pursued, and the case of Nityananda, who remains untouched in an island off the coast of Ecuador, where he has declared the creation of an independent country called Kailasa.
While there is a public outcry against the seer of the Brihan Mutt, it is the political compulsions which make the case a difficult one to handle for the BJP government and the party. One thing is certain: Whichever the controversy pans out, it is likely to have an impact on the electoral prospects of the BJP in the next Assembly elections.
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