Lingayat pontiff of the influential Muruga Rajendra Mutt in Karnataka, Shivamurthy Muruga Sharanaru, was arrested late on Thursday after allegations of sexual abuse from schoolgirls. He was named in a case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act after two teenage girls alleged that they were abused for years.
The delay in investigations in the sensational case had raised questions, as also the deafening silence across political parties in Karnataka.
Despite being booked under the POCSO Act, the police were seen dragging their feet.
The arrest is also seen to have political ramifications in the state that is heading towards elections.
Mutts and their political influence
The Muruga Rajendra Mutt is a major Lingayat mutt that is known to be influential across party lines. While Lingayat mutts are said to keep an apolitical front, politicians are seen to make a beeline as the blessings by the pontiffs has great symbolic value. It helps political leaders and parties to assert the backing they receive.
Lingayat mutts like the Suttur Mutt, Muruga Mutt, among others, have an impact on how the votes swing during elections as well as who could be the chief minister of the state.
One classic example of the clout enjoyed by a leader backed by the mutts is BS Yediyurappa.
In 2020, when speculation was rife that the then CM would be removed, Muruga Mutt’s Shivamurthy was one of the first religious leaders to have publicly backed Yediyurappa and promised support. Addressing the media then, Shivamurthy had said, “Yediyurappa is a grassroots-level leader. He has built the party from scratch. He should not be disturbed. We are here to support him and express solidarity with him. The party will suffer if he is removed.”
The opposition Congress was also seen to be extremely tight-lipped about the police inaction for fear of retaliation from the Lingayat community which is a prominent vote bank in Karnataka politics. Lingayats form close to 18% of the voting population in the state.
Senior Congress leaders including Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah, who normally would launch a scathing attack against the BJP, also kept mum. Shivamurthy had backed Siddaramaiah in 2005 when he quit the Janata Dal (Secular) and tried to launch his own party under the AHIDA banner. Siddaramaiah later joined the Congress and became the chief minister of the state.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also recently visited this mutt and received “Lingayat deeksha” or initiation into Lingayatism by Shivamurthy. The move, political analysts say, was to ensure the support of the mutt and its devotees. It may not work so well anymore.
Though Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai had announced that investigations would be conducted in a fair manner and assured that “the truth will come out”, activists say that the government was seen to be going slow.
A senior police official had spoken to News18 before the arrest and said that since it was a sensitive case involving young children, investigators were proceeding carefully.
A Chitradurga-based social activist working closely with the two young girls also told News18 before the arrest: “The survivors’ statements have been recorded by the police. They have courageously stood up against the atrocities inside the mutt and are yet to find justice. They are hoping that the state government will provide them enough support and ensure that justice is delivered to them.”
The pontiff has been charged under POCSO after two schoolgirls residing in the mutt’s hostel complained of sexual harassment.
A total of five people have been booked in the case along with the chief pontiff, including a junior priest, hostel head Parashivaiah Basavaditya, mutt employee Akkamahadevi Rashmi, and lawyer Gangadharaiah. An FIR was filed based on the complaint from Mysuru-based NGO Odanadi Seva Samsthe, who helped the victims out of the situation.
Earlier on Thursday, the anticipatory bail plea moved by Shivamurthy was adjourned to September 2, by a local court in Chitradurga.
“This is not the first time there has even been a conspiracy against the mutt. It’s been there for the last 15 years. These conspiracies that have been inside the mutt have not come out in the open and all I have to say is that I will come out clean as the allegations are false and baseless. Will lend full cooperation to the investigation and help take it to the logical end as truth will prevail and innocence will be proved,” Shivamurthy told the media a few days ago.
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