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Karnataka polls a year away but Rahul Gandhi, Amit Shah vie for Lingayat voters’ attention

Gandhi and Shah are both set to attend 115th birth anniversary celebrations of Siddalinga Shivakumara Swamiji at Siddaganga Mutt. Ex-CM B.S. Yediyurappa will chair Friday's event.

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Bengaluru: Top leaders of political parties dashing to religious mutts and meeting seers — such scenes are most common during election campaigning in Karnataka.

This time, however, the VVIP visits have come much earlier, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah of the BJP and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi making a beeline to the state to participate in the 115th birth anniversary celebrations of Siddalinga Shivakumara Swamiji, famously known as the ‘Walking God’.

Tumakuru’s Siddaganga Mutt, which is hosting the grand ‘Guru Vandane’ event to honour the Swami on 1 April, is considered the largest and most influential religious institution for the politically significant Veerashaiva-Lingayat community in Karnataka. The Lingayats are estimated to make up about 17 per cent of the state’s population.

Shah and Gandhi’s participation in the celebrations comes at a time when both their parties are vying for a piece of the Lingayat pie ahead of the Karnataka elections, which are scheduled around May 2023.

Rahul Gandhi arrived in Bengaluru Thursday afternoon and headed to the Mutt with a host of party leaders including Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D.K. Shivakumar and Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly, Siddaramaiah.

Addressing a gathering of the Mutt’s followers, Gandhi hailed the service rendered by it. “Lord Basavana spoke of universal brotherhood, love beyond caste and religion lines. We need to stop the hate being spread in the country today, and this Mutt has been playing a huge role in promoting harmony,” Gandhi said.

Amit Shah is set to participate in the celebrations Friday.

Also read: Why a ‘campaign against conversion’ in Karnataka has reignited Veerashaiva-Lingayat divide

Wooing the Lingayats

The BJP has enjoyed the political support of the Lingayats, led by their religious mutts for over two decades in Karnataka, with Lingayat strongman B.S. Yediyurappa being the face of the community. Ahead of the assembly elections, and after Yediyurappa’s ouster as Karnataka CM mid-term in 2021, the party is working overtime to retain their support.

The seer’s birth anniversary celebrations are being used by Yediyurappa himself to display the undivided support he continues to enjoy from the community, as he is set to chair the grand event. His son and state BJP vice-president B.Y. Vijayendra, who is hoping to contest the next elections, is the chairman of the reception committee for the event, giving him ample time with Shah during his visit to the Mutt.

Ahead of the Union home minister’s arrival, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai Thursday visited the Mutt to supervise preparations. His government last week announced that Jagadguru Renukacharya Jayanthi will be a state celebration, following a request by the Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha, in a move seen as an attempt to woo a large section of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.

While leaders of the BJP have been spearheading the preparations for the celebrations, Congress leaders too are claiming proximity to the Mutt.

Shivakumar Wednesday shared photos of Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi visiting the Mutt over the years and seeking blessings of Shivakumara Swami.

“Sri @RahulGandhi’s visit to Siddaganga Mutt once again, this time on the occasion of Sri Sri Sri Shivakumara Mahaswamiji’s birth anniversary, will be a momentous occasion. This reminds me of the respect and reverence Gandhi family holds for the Mutt and our spiritual leaders,” he tweeted.

Earlier this year, to stake claim for representing the Lingayats, the Congress had appointed M.B. Patil, a Lingayat, as chairman of its campaign committee.

With both parties vying to woo the Lingayat community, the call to bestow the Bharat Ratna on Shivakumara Swamiji is expected to get renewed. It had previously reached a crescendo in January 2019 when the seer had passed away at the age of 111.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Engineer to Karnataka CM — The rise of BSY loyalist & Lingayat leader Basavaraj Bommai

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