Shivakumara 'Walking God' Swami passes away: Why Karnataka politics and Siddaganga mutt seer were inseparable

As news of Siddaganga mutt seer Shivakumara Swami's death spread through TV channgels and social media, political leaders from across the spectrum expressed their sadness on social media.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in three separate tweets each accompanied with a different photo of Modi with the seer, said, "Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swamigalu lived for the people, especially the poor and vulnerable. He devoted himself towards alleviating ills like poverty, hunger and social injustice. Prayers and solidarity with his countless devotees spread all across the world."

It was not just Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind also tweeted condolence message:

Other politicians, starting from Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh (see here also) and BJP chief Amit Shah (there are many more), tweeted out their messages on social media. Shah's message was similar to that of Modi's:

Politics and religion are difficult to separate, especially in India where the duo forms an important partnership that often helps in winning elections.

Siddaganga Mutt in Tumakuru-Bengaluru region is India's one of the most crucial mutts in Karnataka for the Lingayats. BS Yeddyurappa, famously commenced his campaign in 2008 from this mutt and went on to storm the elections. It was believed that due to the seer, Lingayats voted in favour of BSY.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Siddaganga Swami. Image/@narendramodi

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Siddaganga Swami. Image/@narendramodi

The Siddaganga Mutt seer revered by the people of the Lingayat-Veerashaiva faith, essentially heading the politically-influential Lingayat community. The Padma Bhushan awardee was, in fact, in great demand during the 2018 Karnataka Assembly election.

All political leaders from Karnataka and even their bosses from New Delhi have always made it a point to visit one religious leader in the state during every election. The prime ministers to party presidents, Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi, Siddaramaiah to Yeddyurappa, Deve Gowda to Kumaraswamy and who's who of the political world stop at Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur, 70 km from Bengaluru.

Referred to as the 'walking god', Shivakumara Swami has been a constant in Karnataka politics even though he takes no political stand and welcomes everyone and his clout is such that no one can prioritise over Siddaganga mutt. News18 reported that the visit to the mutt is a customary part of the itinerary for every politician.

At least 600 years old, the Sivaganga Mutt has played an important role in the socio-religious life of old Mysore region. Born on 1 April, 1907 Shivakumara Swamy became a Lingayat monk in 1930.

A well-educated seer opened a free boarding school for the poor children at the Mutt more than half a century ago. The Gurukul now houses over 8,500 children in the age group of  five to 15 years irrespective of their caste, creed and religion, said reports. The devotees offer donations in cash and kind to the Gurukul. The Mutt also runs medical and engineering colleges. According to reports, the mutt claims to have 50,000 students in its schools. These mutts have also influenced government policy in the past.

During the controversy over separate religion tag to Lingayats, Shivakumara stayed away from it. He refused to make his stand clear on the issue. But his junior pontiff openly backed state government's decision to accord separate religion tag to Lingayats. The Congress leaders were quoted by reports that senior pontiff is in agreement with the state government.

Shivakumara was not like other Lingayat seers. He kept his distance from politics and reportedly did not openly take sides. In his previous stint as the chief minister, Yeddyurappa was a regular visitor to the mutt, but the seer did not take any sides even then, reports said.

But it's not just the BJP, even the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), who have formed the coalition government in Karnataka, have tried cozying up to the Mutt. The JD(S), which relies entirely on a Vokkaliga vote bank, too thought it to be important to visit this mutt since every one does realise the importance of capitalising on a Lingayat vote bank.

Endorsement of seers like Shivakumara go a long way for desperate political parties. Their support often determines the outcome of many constituencies, and in some cases, even the final result of an election. One of the shining examples, demonstrating rise of seers and religious bodies (mutts, peeths, and the likes) in mainstream politics is Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

"For a caste or sub-caste, having a mutt of their own has become important — that is the Karnataka model anyway. So if you are a caste and you do not have a mutt, you feel something is incomplete here," Chandan Gowda, political analyst, sociologist and faculty at Azim Premji University, told Livemint.

Karnataka mutts differ from pan-Indian 'gurus' like Baba Ramdev or Sri Sri Ravishankar — they, first of all, usually stay away from mainstream media and their influence is limited to the state, usually.

In 2008, Shivakumara's support is what helped the BJP sweep Karnataka mandate. Yeddyurappa reciprocated by doling out thousands of crores of rupees to the mathas, from whom the BJP now wants support. However, the support and the influence usually works behind the scenes.

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 17:39:42 IST

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