Top leaders of the Congress party and the BJP have once again proved that their main vocation during election campaign is to go on a whirlwind tour of temples and mutts.
Probably, leaders have not spared themselves from visiting any prominent religious institution or temple in Karnataka in the last few weeks. JD (S) leader H D Kumaraswamy too began his campaign after seeking the blessings of his community religious leader. However, he and his father Deve Gowda have not made it a point to stop at every mutt wherever they take out their political yatras because they seem to be sure of not getting the blessings of Veerashaiva, Lingayat or Kuruba mutts.
BJP national president Amit Shah, the so-called Chanakya of the party, and Congress national president Rahul Gandhi have made it a vocation to pay their obedience to men in saffron robe in all districts. One can easily lose count of the mutts and temples visited by Shah and Rahul. The one-point agenda is to plead swamis to influence their community people to vote for their parties. While Shah is accompanied by state party president B S Yeddyurappa, Rahul is guided by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, a onetime socialist.
Is such exercise required? If you ask politicians, they reply in the positive. Because mutt leaders, by and large, have influence over their community. Whispering campaign does take place here. Sometimes, openly they bless their choice of parties or leaders. They got such power not because of their spiritual leadership but due to their wealth.
Many pontiffs are like CEOs of educational institutions, which are nothing but large business houses. Hundreds of educational institutions including medical and engineering are run by Lingayat and Vokkaliga mutts. One exception is the Siddaganga Mutt, which is feeding thousands of poor students on a daily basis and also providing free education. However, a junior swami of this mutt is entertaining politicians and issuing statements which are of no use to society at large.
Lakshmivara Thirtha Swami of Shiroor mutt, breaking the convention, has announced that he would be either an Independent or BJP candidate from Udupi. The reason to contest is to improve backward villages of Udupi and reduce corruption etc., he says. If he could not influence political leaders and officers who visit the mutt to change Udupi for better, then how he would as an Independent MLA bring in changes?
In case he is inspired UP CM Yogi Adiyanath, then the model is not appropriate. The Udupi swami is probably not abreast with the developments in UP and the plethora of problems being faced by the CM. Of course, nothing stops a law abiding citizen in a democratic country like India from contesting polls. It would be desirable if he gives up his ascetic role and contest to test his popularity.
Not every swami can be like Siddheshwar Swami of Jnana Yogashrama, Vijayapura. Through his spiritual work and exemplary conduct, he has set an example for other swamis. In January this year, when the Centre bestowed him with Padma Shri award, Siddeshwara politely declined it saying being a sanyasin, he had least interest in awards.
The highly revered swami, who sports white attire, is an example of grace, divinity and simplicity. One wish religious leaders become living examples like Siddeshwara and late Swamy Purushottamananda of the Ramakrishna Mission among other such countable monks.
No government in Karnataka has ever dared to audit land holdings by mutts, which are running educational institutions. Dealings of mutts are usually opaque. Raids against these cash and land rich institutions by Central Bureau of Direct Taxes or Enforcement Directorate are unheard. Politicians nurture and protect mutts and their leaders well. This is obvious from the bonhomie being displayed by top politicians and swamis during the ongoing poll campaign. Usually swamis claim they bless all politicians but favour none. It is not as simple as portrayed.
On April 3, when Shah visited the Kaginele Gurupeetha of Haveri, the main swami was not present. The peetha is established as a spiritual and cultural centre by Kurubas. The BJP leader had to be satisfied with having interactions with a bunch of junior pontiffs. However, the main swami made himself available to Rahul in Harihara. The pontiff presented Rahul with a wool blanket, a symbolic display of vocation of Kurubas (shepherds). Siddaramaiah, a powerful Kuruba leader, was present during the visit. The whole act was as political as it could be!
The latest political gimmick by the BJP is to give the status of Minister of State to five saadhu 'maharajas' who are suppose to protect River Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. Why do these 'saffron maharajas' require such status to do a job? Has Dr Rajendra Singh, the Waterman of India, enjoys ministerial rank to carry out his river conservation campaigns across India?
Work should speak
When political leaders go before the public seeking fresh mandate, their work should be portrayed. Their leadership should attract the masses. But it is too much to expect such ideal situation. Name any top leader in the state, they are literally begging for votes.
If the BJP or the Congress eradicated poverty, empowered people, given houses to houseless, extended quality education, maintained law and order, ensured people are free of diseases, left people smiling through free rice and subsidized canteen food, had deposited lakhs in poor people's bank accounts etc., then why plead for votes?
If distribution of freebies alone can please people, then probably the Congress would not have lost polls in this country. If words can mesmerize and power packed speeches can fool people, then the BJP would not have lost polls anywhere in the country post-2014 Lok Sabha elections. If Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy assume that people have forgotten political instability created by them during the coalition rule, then they are fooling themselves.
In the present elections, political debates should have been on ways and means to provide potable water to people instead of making people compulsorily purchase water purifiers and thus make MNCs richer.
Measures required to reduce air pollution, moving towards zero corruption in government offices, improve safety to vulnerable sections of society, making available equal quality education to children through public educational institutions, quick efforts required to decongest Bengaluru, allowing Tier II and III cities to grow in a balanced way to cater to employment requirements of youths, and debating the ways of raising funds for improving mass transit in major cities, in particular in Bengaluru, should have got top priority.
But what we get to see are ugly debates on division of religions, false promises to the poor through reservations, whether the Modi government or Siddaramaiah government is better in distribution of free lunch, gas cylinders, LED bulbs, shelters and the like. As long as people do not shake and question politicians, the situation would not improve. Politicians will continue with their 'giver' role and people will continue as 'alms receivers'.