Karnataka polls: Politicians employing religious gimmicks, treating voters like beggars, says Nidumamidi Mutt’s Veerabhadra Swami

Bengaluru: "Political leaders are treating voters as beggars," says Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swami of Nidumamidi Mutt in Gulur of Kolar district. The swami and his mutt belong to the Veerashaiva Lingayat denomination, though it is a little-known exception situated in an impoverished district (Kolar), which has a sizable Dalit population.

Karnataka polls: Politicians employing religious gimmicks, treating voters like beggars, says Nidumamidi Mutt’s Veerabhadra Swami

File image of Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swamiji of the Nidumamidi Mutt. Image courtesy Y Maheswara Reddy

The 56-year-old seer hasn't shied away from expressing his political position, as he has in the past condemned the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and has opposed mutt heads (seers) visiting Dalit homes, calling their act mere 'drama'.

He is known to propagate equal rights, freedom, free education and vouches for a corruption-free society. The seer is never reticent when it comes to expressing his views on politics and politicians.

Given the recent rush of visits by senior Congress and BJP leaders to mutts and temples of various denominations, the spiritual heads of Karnataka are caught in the election spotlight as never before. Swami Chennamalla is no exception. In a candid interview with this author, he was as forthright as always. Edited excerpts follow:

One BJP MLA described this Karnataka Assembly election as a fight between Hindus and Muslims. Later, senior BJP leaders said the party has nothing to do with those statements. What are your views on this?
There is no difference between the BJP ideology and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology. These leaders are issuing such statements to implement the RSS ideology. If BJP has nothing to do with those statements, how come Prime Minister Narendra Modi is silent on the issue? I have no doubt about Modi’s ability and courage but his silence makes me doubt his credibility. He is not doing anything to sensitise BJP leaders who follow the RSS ideology. Modi looks more like a dictator than a saviour of democracy.

BJP leaders treat other communities as outsiders and look at them with contempt. They consider Muslims extremists and intruders. They are not treating Christians on par with Muslims but always doubt their honesty. Ananth Kumar Hegde and RSS leaders raise these issues during elections. Their ideology is to establish a Hindu Constitution and Hindu State.

BJP leaders allege that many Hindu activists were murdered during the Congress regime. Do you agree with them?
We should not politicise the murders. A murder is a murder. There is no Hindu murder or Muslim murder.

Almost all politicians are vying with each other in visiting temples, mosques and mutts as part of their election campaign. What is your take on this?
Visiting or paying obeisance at a temple, mosque or mutt is a purely personal affair. Now, visiting religious places has become a political gimmick. These political leaders believe that followers or devotees of those temple, mutts, and mosques will vote for their candidates. Swamijis of different faiths are important to politicians as they view voters of different castes and communities as vote banks.

Your comments on the selection of candidates...
Most political parties select winnable candidates irrespective of their background. They are not bothered about criminal or corruption cases pending against such candidates. Criminal cases are pending against more than 30 percent of MLAs.

Why should people with such dubious records be allowed to rule us? It is the responsibility of the voters to reject them. It is shocking to see politicians doubling their assets within a few years after getting elected to the Assembly or the Lok Sabha. It is public money which is converted into their personal assets. We have to stop this.

Do you think all these populist "Bhagya" programmes are actually for the welfare of people?
Government programmes should be people-oriented, not populist. Why do people need freebies if they are employed? Every political party and every politician, from the late Indira Gandhi, late S Bangarappa and present leaders, are treating people as beggars rather than empowering them. Every politician talks about waiving agricultural loans during the elections and forgets about it afterwards. If farmers get minimum support price for their produce, they would not appeal for a waiver of loans.

Let the government nationalise education and make education compulsory for all from 1st standard to 10th standard in their respective mother tongue. Let the government fill up vacancies without taking bribes. The government has no willpower or intention to do these things. What does a government employee, who has spent a lot of money not only on his education but also to get the job, do? He tries to recover the money by indulging in corruption.

If the government provides education and jobs without taking money, I will support the government to punish employees who demand bribes. I want the government to file sedition cases against those involved in corruption, which has been institutionalised. Corruption cannot be rooted out by politicians giving speeches. We cannot be free from corruption even if 100 Narendra Modis come and go. The need of the hour is to avoid corrupting people by offering freebies.

What are your views on swamijis and yogis entering politics?
I am against swamijis and yogis entering politics. They are supposed to work for the welfare of society through the mutts and temples they represent. Swamijis and yogis are not supposed to run after power. I oppose Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. He is a yogi but where is the need for him to become a politician? I am also not in favour of Shirur Mutt swamiji contesting Assembly elections. Swamijis have to create awareness among voters to select and elect the right candidate to represent them in the Assembly or Parliament.

Are you happy with the electoral system?
I am not happy with the electoral system in the country. An attempt was made to introduce electoral reforms when TN Seshan was the Chief Election Commissioner. Since then, no one has made any attempt to introduce electoral reforms. I want the Election Commission to prohibit politicians with more than two children contesting elections. I want the Election Commission to cancel the voting rights for parents who have more than two children.

The author is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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Updated Date: Apr 30, 2018 17:32:05 IST

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