• The Lingayata and Hindu Mathas in Karnataka’s Electoral Politics

    “Mathas do not entirely influence elections”

    Yogesh S

    April 3, 2018


    Four seers of Mathas in Karnataka are aspiring for tickets from BJP in the state assembly elections on 12 May 2018. A report in The Economic Times said Lakshmivara Tirtha Swami of Shiroor Mutt in Udupi, Basavananda Swami of Sri Guru Basava Mahamane of Dharwad, Madara Chennaiah Swami of Sri Shiva Sharana Madara Guru peetha and Rajashekarananda Swami of Vajradehi Matha near Mangaluru are the four seers aspiring for nominations from BJP.

    After Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka is set to witness the participation of seers in its state assembly election. Mathas in Karnataka has long had a traditional following and almost every caste in the state has a Matha of its own, which has made them a political tool for all the parties contesting in the elections. Leaders of BJP, and B. S. Yeddyurappa, the Chief Ministerial candidate of BJP in the state, have been encountering resistance during their election campaigns. Alarmed by such encounters, it seems like BJP now has turned to Mathas and seers to use them as their tools to reach out to voters. As a report in The State pointed out, BJP now wants to strengthen it’s Hindutva vote bank by having the seers of Hindu Mathas as their candidates, while Congress, on the other hand, may be approaching the seers of Lingayata Mathas to contest from Congress.

    What is the interest of these Mathas in state politics? Do they influence voting and thus the election result? One cannot speculate answers for such questions. What we can do is, look at the interest of mathas in the political parties and vice versa.

    Shiroor Matha is one of the Ashta Mathas (8 mathas) of Udupi. Lakshmivara Tirtha Swami of this Matha, by aspiring to contest in this election, has become the first seer from Ashta Mathas to get directly involved in politics. The State has reported him saying, “As I stand in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I am a BJP person. It is better if BJP gives me a chance, otherwise I am sure of contesting as an independent candidate.”

    Basavraj Sulibhavi, the publisher of Ladai Prakashana, speaking to Newsclick, explained the complex relationship that the Ashta Mathas have had with the Sangh Parivar and BJP:

    “These mathas have always had internal clashes among themselves. For example, Pejawar Matha is not in good terms with all the Ashta Mathas.These Mathas especially the Pejawar Matha has been closely functioning with the Sangh Parivar and it’s organisations; thus the Sangh Parivar and BJP have been influencing the Brahmin followers of the Ashta Mathas; but one cannot say that these Mathas have an absolute influence on the voters. The karavali region has been the field for their communal politics. We should remember one thing, all the clashes between the Mathas and their involvement in politics is far from the dharmica or spiritual reasons but they are solely for economic reasons. These Mathas want to establish their ownership on their exuberant wealth and they see their involvement in politics as a way to achieve this. The decision of Lakshmivara Tirtha Swami of Shiroor Matha should be viewed against this backdrop. Since the Shirror Matha and the seer has clashes with Pejawar Matha the Swami has now come out and announced that he will be contesting in this election.”

    The infighting between the Mathas that Sulibhavi referred to, was also pointed out by the Swami himself, when he said , “If I stand as an Independent candidate, the BJP vote will split and the Congress will benefit. My fight is against the Udupi BJP unit.” BJP, the State reported, is not very sure of his candidature.

    Explaining the decision of the other three seers, Sulibhavi said:

    “this is not the first time that the seers have been approached by the political parties; and this is surely not the first time when the Mathas are supporting the parties. But what we should remember is the loss of BJP in 2013 election. In 2008 Yeddyurappa was supported by the Mathas openly and on winning, he donated thousands of crores of rupees to these mathas. Still BJP was not able to win the 2013 election. This leaves us suspicious about the influence of Mathas on voting.”

    According to Sulibhavi, the BJP has already lost the support of Lingayata Mathas on the issue of minority religion status. B. S. Yeddyurappa’s core voter base had been the Lingayata community. Siddaramaiah's government, by accepting the demand for a minority religion status for Lingayatas, has put Yeddyurappa in a difficult spot, where conceding to the Lingayata’s demand would amount to a betrayal of the Hindutva agenda, while not doing so might cause him a loss of his strongest support base. This move of Congress has won them the support of Lingayata Mathas.

    report in Livemint titled Why Mathas are so important in Karnataka politics provides a history of mathas and of their influence on the elections in the state. Chandan Gowda, political analyst, sociologist and faculty at Azim Premji University has noted in the report, “For a caste or sub-caste, having a matha of their own has become important—that is the Karnataka model anyway. So if you are a caste and you do not have a matha, you feel something is incomplete here.”

    Sulibhavi, talking about this "Karnataka model", said, “Mathas influence the elections but they are not the sole influencing factor. Their influence is very limited. The mathas can support certain leaders of certain party but do not force their followers to vote for these leaders. The followers, just as in any other state, consider the political scenario: corruption, policies, campaigns etc…in voting.”


    Yogesh S is part of the editorial collective of the Indian Writers' Forum.

    Co-published with Newsclick

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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