Seers of Karnataka are not averse to political controversies it seems, given the various remarks and comments coming in from religious leaders of different mutts over the last one week. While the Congress is already in the middle of the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah vs Deputy Chief Minister Shivakumar debate, the seers are not leaving opportunities to add fuel to the commotion.

On June 27, Kumara Chandrashekaranatha Swami of the Vishwa Vokkaligara Mahasamsthana Mutt, a prominent mutt of the Vokkaliga community, made a rather surprising request. He said Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, could become the chief minister only if “Siddaramaiah makes up his mind. So, please make Shivakumar the CM”.

What came as a major embarrassment for the Karnataka Congress unit is that both Siddharamaiah and Shivakumar were present at the event held to mark the birth anniversary of Kempegowda, who is believed to be the founder of Bengaluru, when Kumara Chandrashekaranatha Swami made the request.

Seers present their take on Karnataka cabinet composition

What followed next was demands from seers of other communities to ensure that their sects get adequate representation at the top of the power pyramid.

Although Shivakumar and other Congress leaders requested viewers not to make comments regarding the internal affairs of the party a day later, the floodgates opened as more viewers offered recommendations on the composition of the Karnataka cabinet.

Festive offer

Public Works Department Minister Satish Jarkiholi also hit out at the remarks, saying that it is the party high command that takes a call on changing the chief minister. “If a Swamiji says or I say, then the chief minister cannot be changed. It is a decision of the party,” he said.

‘Lingayats should get more representation in cabinet’

On June 29, Channasiddarama Panditharadya Shivacharya of the Sreesaila Peeta, a Lingayat mutt, put forth his demand. “If the CM is changed and additional deputy chief ministers are appointed, then Lingayats should get more representation in the cabinet. Opportunities should be given to leaders like MB Patil, Eshwar Khandre and Shamanur Shivashankarappa,” he said. Both Patil and Khandre are ministers in the Siddaramaiah cabinet. The CM hails from the Kuruba community.

On June 30, another Lingayat seer, Rambhapuri Veerasomeshwara Swami demanded “prominent positions for leaders from the Lingayat community in the cabinet.”

Some in favor of CM Siddaramaiah

Other religious groups too put forth similar demands, with a section backing Siddaramaiah to continue as the chief minister. Responding to such demands, the CM’s economic advisor Basavaraj Rayareddy said religious heads should not make such statements. “People respect them. Rather than imparting religious teachings, asking a person to make a CM based on caste is wrong,” he said.

These developments came amid a full blown tussle in the Karnataka Congress unit over appointment of additional deputy chief ministers in the Karnataka cabinet. The Siddaramaiah camp is looking to trim Shivakumar’s powers – as he is the only deputy chief minister and holds the Bengaluru Development and Irrigation portfolios, apart from being the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief.

Siddaramaiah camp’s attempt to upset DKS

Over the past week, the Siddaramaiah camp has been attempting to upset Shivakumar by raking the additional deputy chief minister demand amid demands to change the chief minister. In fact, the remark by Chandrashekaranatha Swami was construed as an attempt to counter the attempts of the Siddaramaiah camp, said party insiders. Apart from the seer, a few of Shivakumar’s loyalists have also raised the pitch for him to be made the chief minister.

A blast from the past

The remark by Chandrshekaranatha Swami was reminiscent of a controversial incident that took place back in January 2020 when BJP Parliamentary Board member BS Yediyurappa was the Karnataka Chief Minister. Vachanananda, a seer of Harihar Panchamasali Peeta, appeared to be lobbying for BJP leader Murugesh Nirani to be inducted into the state Cabinet. He rattled the former chief minister saying that if Nirani is not made a minister, then Yediyurappa would lose support of the entire Panchamasali community – a Lingayat sect.

Yediyurappa had then threatened to leave the venue but was convinced to return to his seat. This had then laid bare the power tussle within the BJP, as Yediyurappa struggled to form a Cabinet by keeping both migrants – those who switched to BJP during the Operation Lotus in 2019 – and native BJP leaders happy.