The most touching aspect of a Lingayat mutt head publicly “threatening” Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa to include Lingayat MLAs in his cabinet, failing which he would incur the wrath of the entire Lingayat community, is the faux outrage—first from Yediyurappa himself on stage, and then from the outside world.
On social media there has been a welter of criticism at the audacity of the swami to upbraid an elected politician—and grudging appreciation of Yediyurappa’s angry comeback. In mainstream media there have been well-intentioned editorials asking why a man allegedly of the spiritual world should be concerned with matters ephemeral.
All very well, but who are we kidding?
The last thing on the minds of most Hindu swamijis today is the purity of word or deed. Many are notorious for extracting or extorting money from the crooked and corrupt. A few are in jail or preparing to go there for their sexual peccadilloes. The biggest names are renowned for killing the environment or their life partners, even of the same sex.
As for being representatives of their great religion:
# How many Hindu “godmen” have you seen speak the language of inclusivity, the most life-affirming feature of Hinduism, while the soul of India is torn by the anguish of Muslims over #CAA?
# Which swami, baba or yogi, who spouts ahimsa or worships Saraswati, have you seen speak for non-violence when the young are hammered in Universities and educational institutions being destroyed by RSS stooges?
In other words, what the young “godman” in Harihar did to Yediyurappa in full public view is what most people suspect happens in private, when netas call on swamis for “blessings” after taking oath of office, and whenever they are in their vicinity, which seems to be quite often.
Vachanananda swami’s only crime seems to have been to out Karnataka’s worst kept secret—the unseemly stranglehold the men of god have over the state’s politics and public affairs—in front of TV and mobile phone cameras.
Actually, in a counterfactual way, the swami actually did Yediyurappa a big favour. It is public knowledge that Lingayat fury over the alleged Congress “insult” to Veerendra Patil is what pushed the community to the BJP en masse. It is the committed support of Lingayats that has helping BJP gain a foothold in the South India.
By waving the stick of “betrayal” at Yediyurappa, the young swami has relayed to the BJP high command that, having come to power, the Lingayat community cannot be taken for granted. He has also eased the burden on Yediyurappa by conveying the enormous pressure the CM is under from the community, to give representation to those who have repeatedly came to its aid.
It is a rare and enlightened Lingayat who will admit that what the swami did was not right.
More than the swami’s loud demand that three Lingayats should be included in the Karnataka cabinet, the more eyepopping aspect of the televised interaction is the temerity with the young upstart exhorts a man nearly twice his age to “sit down”—koothko beku, koothu kolli neevu, koothu kolli thaavu.
Indian politicians—and Presidents and judges and nearly one else—do not think twice when they are made to sit lower than a godman ensconsced on a pedestal on stage. The sight of Yediyurappa being told to take his place when he gets up in protest should offer some room for introspection to those who mistakenly believe they are dealing with a representative of god.
Does the Constitution of India come higher than the religious books?
Recently, the former Lok Ayukta of Karnataka and former Supreme Court judge Justice Santosh Hegde had no qualms inaugurating a series of lectures on the Constitution, no less, with Deshikendra Swami of the Suttur Mutt sitting alongside. Guess who is to the right of Vachananda swami, and guess who is silent, when Yediyurappa receives the rocket from him: Deshikendra himself.
For the world outside Karnataka, the Yediyurappa episode might be revealing of the tight grip religion, caste and community have obtained over public life in one of India’s most progressive states. But they are on weak ground.
The spectacular growth of the Yogi Ramdev business empire after Narendra Modi came to power, and the patronage enjoyed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Jaggi Vasudev, even when they are on the wrong side of the law, go to show that the politician-godman nexus is a national malaise and not confined to Karnataka alone.
In fact, shortly after Modi came to power, the Bengali singer Babul Supriyo wrote a two-part article in the Anandabazar Patrika on how he managed to get a BJP ticket to fight the 2014 elections.
On February 28 that year, Supriyo said he was sitting next to Ramdev on a flight and overheard him discussing ticket distribution.
“Baba I also want a ticket. And if you do not give it, I will tell the media how you are giving tickets to people.”
“Ramdev was taken aback, and told his personal secretary to take down the number of the singer.
“On March 1, I got a call from a person who identified himself as Rakesh, a pracharak of the RSS. ‘Baba has told us about you. How much money will you be able to spend? The limit is Rs 70 lakh but some people spend more than that,’ he said.
“I told Rakesh I could not spend the money. ‘I love Modiji and that is why I want to contest,’ I told him. Three days later, I got a call. It was Ramdev, who told me that my candidature had been confirmed.”
That a representative of a “cultural organisation” like RSS should have involved itself in matters electoral will only surprise those who have returned from Mars. The larger question is, if it is OK for Baba Ramdev for secure a ticket for a singer he had met three days ago, surely it should be OK for Vachananda swami to canvass a ministerial berth for Murugesh Nirani and other Lingayat MLAs?
The Election Commission’s prescribes various guidelines for separation of religion and politics. Under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, seeking votes in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language would amount to corruption.
The EC’s model code of conduct also bars campaigning from “places of worship”. It says “no party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”
Yet, with what face can anybody oppose Vachanananda swami’s open but less-than-sophisticated intrusion in a cabinet expansion when the referring to immigrants as “termites” or threatening to shot dissidents like “dogs” is part of the national idiom?
Or, when BJP’s working president J.P. Nadda stands up on stage and says politics has no meaning without religion.
“I firmly believe that politics would become wisdom-less without the presence of religion. There is no meaning of politics without religion. They both go together,” the man who is slated to become full-time BJP president said a fortnight ago. His audience: the Swaminarayan Sect in Ahmedabad, whose hold over national politics is of an altogether different scale.
A translated and abridged version of this piece appears in today’s Praja Vani.