The head priest of the Shiva shrine is a Veerashaiva-Lingayat, and the BJP hopes Modi’s visit to the temple before launching his Karnataka campaign will help win the hearts of Lingayats.
New Delhi: A day before he heads to Karnataka to begin campaigning for the critical assembly elections in the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to travel in the opposite direction to the Himalayas, to Kedarnath to be specific, to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and the Lingayat head priest of the temple – a symbolic gesture the BJP hopes will help win the hearts of Karnataka’s Lingayat voters.
The Kedarnath shrine is due to open for the season on 29 April and Modi is expected to make the trip the previous evening, highly placed sources in the party told ThePrint.
The head priest (rawal) of the shrine, Bhimashankar Ling Shivacharya, is a member of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, a key BJP vote bank that has been targeted by the move of the Congress government of Siddaramaiah to grant separate religion status.
Last week, the Prime Minister had in London garlanded a statue of the 12-century philosopher Basavanna, whose ideas form the basis of Lingayatism, on his birth anniversary. The statue, located along the Thames, was inaugurated by Modi three years ago.
The votebank question
The Lingayats, Shiva worshippers, comprise 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population and are believed to influence the poll outcome in around 100 of the state’s 224 constituencies. They have traditionally leaned towards the BJP, which is led in the state by community strongman B.S. Yeddyurappa.
The Siddaramaiah government’s controversial decision to recognise them as a separate religion was seen as a bid by Congress to wean them away from the BJP.
Bhimashankar Ling Shivacharya, for one, has echoed the BJP in criticising the move, terming it “politically motivated” and “a big mistake”. Like the BJP and other critics, he has accused the Siddaramaiah government of trying to divide the community.
The Kedarnath connection
Kedarnath’s ties with the Lingayats are believed to go way back.
It is said that the temple, believed to have been built by the Pandavas, was revived by 8th-century philosopher Adi Shankara, and maintained by Lingayat priests from Karnataka over the years. The head priest of the temple can reportedly only be a Lingayat.
The Uttarakhand government has begun making preparations for the PM’s arrival on 28 April. Special arrangements have been made at the Kedarnath shrine to promote religious tourism, and the PM is likely to survey the work done ahead of its opening.