If Barack Obama being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize within a fortnight of taking office and eventually bagging it was a page straight out of Ripley‘s Believe it or Not, the Congress-led UPA government of Manmohan Singh has sprung an even bigger surprise by decorating Sri Balagangadharanath swamiji of the Adichunchunagiri Mutt with the nation’s third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan for “social service”.
While the swamiji‘s spiritual claims are relatively unknown, he has happily mixed religion with politics and business in his tenure. Once seen to be close to former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the two had a much publicised fallout with the H.D. Kumaraswamy regime slapping a criminal case on the seer on charges of encroaching government land. Gowda later went to the extent of seeking to split the Vokkaliga community by patronising a rival seer and mutt.
In openly batting for his caste at most times, Balagangadharanath Swamiji has perhaps been no different from most other swamijis in the State, he has been upfront in trying to make political capital out of it. In the field of education, which is the mutt’s chief claim to fame, the swamiji has, at best, a patchy record. In healthcare, the Apollo Hospital run by the BGS group has played a less-than-honourable role in eyeing prime real estate. Etcetera.
Question: Does Balagangadharanath swamiji deserve the Padma Bhushan? Or not? Does it raise the value of the honour? Who do you think swung it for him? And should the Congress-led UPA have obliged?