The role that swamijis, religious gurus and mutt heads should play in society has been much discussed and debated in the tumultous times of god’s own party, the BJP. Should they cross the seven seas and go abroad? Should they be batting for politicians of their own caste and slugging it out on the streets? Etcetera.
In the past week, that role has been expanded to decide public and industrial policy almost at gunpoint. First Sri Vishvesha Teertha swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt delivered an ultimatum to his friends in the saffron party, on the issue of notification of land for a special economic zone in Mangalore, and had his way.
And no sooner had that objective been accomplished, Sri Siddalinga swamiji of the Tontadarya Mutt was taking up the cudgels on behalf of farmers whose land had been taken for the Posco project in Gadag, and indeed on bahalf of citizens whose lives, he said, were at risk because of the steel project.
On Thursday, a day after the State government of B.S. Yediyurappa beat a hasty retreat first on the Mangalore SEZ and then on the Posco land acquisition after grandstanding on its commitment to the “development” agenda, seers of various mutts convened in Gadag on Thursday to discuss the fallout.
The questions that arise are obvious: what is the expertise of the swamijis in such worldly matters? How does their word become more important for a chief minister than that of other “experts”? What happens to the division of labour betwen “Church” and “State”? And indeed, what happens to a State when swamijis get into other messy areas of public life?
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News