Caste-based religious leaders muddy BJP power struggle (Karnataka Newsletter)

March 25th, 2012 - 2:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Bangalore, March 25 (IANS) An unseemly fallout of the continuing leadership tussle in Karnataka’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the open involvement of several Hindu religious leaders backing their candidates on caste lines .

Over the years caste divisions have deepened in Karnataka, like in many other states in India. Adding to the caste cauldron is the unabashed backing of ‘khavi’ (saffron colour) clad religious leaders of politicians belonging to their caste. Their participation is, in fact, growing by the day, and noticeably so after BJP came to power for the first time in the state in May 2008.

This trend continues even as one section of Hindu religious leaders themselves is highly critical of heads of various ‘maths’ (religious institutions) taking sides in political power struggles.

There is no end in sight to this disturbing development in Karnataka despite calls by a section of Hindu religious leaders, civil society groups and other political parties to keep ‘khavi’ out of politics.

“Shed ‘khavi’ and wear ‘khadi’ (or Khaddar worn by many politicians in India) if you want to indulge in politics,” is the slogan heard quite often these days in Karnataka, both as an appeal and a dig at the ’saffron-robe clad swamijis”.

Karnataka has innumerable ‘maths’, with not only each caste but each of the several sub-groups in the caste, having its own ‘math’ and ’swamiji’.

Over the years these ’swamijis’ have acquired enormous clout within their caste group as many of them run educational institutions - from kindergarten to post-graduate medical and engineering colleges - and hospitals, either on their own or in tie up with big corporate hospitals.

Most of the leaders of the three main parties in Karnataka - BJP, the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular - are strong believers and often visit various ‘maths’, even those belonging to other castes, to seek the blessings of the ’swamiji’.

However, ’swamijis’ are hitting the streets for and against a political leader. This is a phenomenon affecting the state after BJP, particularly its leader B.S. Yeddyurappa, exploited caste factor to lead the party to power in 2008 and become its first chief minister in southern India.

Yeddyurappa, who has been fighting with BJP national leaders to re-instate him ever since he was forced to quit over corruption charges in July last year, belong to the politically and economically powerful ‘Lingayat’ caste.

He had termed the failure of JD-S president and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy to hand over chief ministership to him in 2007 as part of the understanding of the JDS-BJP coalition arrangement, as a ‘betrayal’ of the Lingayat community.

Deve Gowda is a Vokkaliga.

Lingayats and Vokkaligas constitute 18 and 17 percent of the state’s around 61 million population respectively and for long have dominated Karnataka politics.

Ever since Yeddyurappa was forced out, several Lingayat ’swamijis’ have led demonstrations and held press meets to demand BJP national leaders “undo the injustice” to him by bringing him back as chief minister.

With Yeddyurappa intensifying his come-back bid, Gowda, as expected in the present day Karnataka politics, is being backed by Vokkaliga ’swamijis’.

BJP national leaders led by party president Nitin Gadkari have bought time to resolve the leadership tussle.

Gadkari and company, while searching for a solution to the Karnataka headache, will serve Hinduism, and also the state. Better if they tell the ’swamijis’ backing their local leaders on caste lines to back off from power politics once and for all.

(V. S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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