Opinion: On Rape-Accused Lingayat Seer, The Silence Of Karnataka Parties


Late night, September 1. The police in Chitradurga, Karnataka, moved in to arrest a man charged with the rape of two minor girls. The police had put in place considerable security before the arrest – including barricades and extra personnel.

The arrest came a full six days after an FIR was filed in the case, following the complaint of the two girls. A delay that allowed the accused to file for anticipatory bail and even address the press. A delay that saw protests and questions about the impartiality of the state administration in this case.

The man who faces charges under the POCSO Act and under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is no ordinary citizen but the head of an influential Lingayat mutt in Karnataka. Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru has seen a procession of big politicians coming to pay their respects before the allegations become public. And leap to his defence after the case was filed.

The details of the allegations, as in all cases involving the sexual abuse of children, are disturbing. The two girls, students in a school run by the mutt, say they were sexually abused by the religious leader for years. They complained to the police in Mysuru with the help of an NGO they had approached on August 26. An FIR was registered the same day. The case was later transferred to Chitradurga.

But there was no immediate move by the police to arrest the accused – or even question him.

Former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, a prominent Lingayat leader, went as far as to say the case was false. The state Home Minister, Araga Jnanendra – the police report to him – blamed the case on internal mutt politics. Even after the case was filed, a local MLA and other leaders of the BJP visited the accused man.

Karnataka will vote for a new government in a matter of months – and the Lingayats are a prominent and powerful group in the state. It is estimated that they make up around 17 per cent of the state’s population, a sizeable share that has a huge bearing on which party can form the government.

The Lingayats have largely been a BJP vote base. Mr Yediyurappa, the first BJP chief minister in South India, belongs to this powerful community – something that has enhanced his political clout over the years.

When the BJP decided to replace Mr Yediyurappa in 2021, amid resentment over his style of functioning and alleged interference by his son in governance, it was careful to pick someone from the same community, Basavaraj Bommai, as his replacement.

Recently, Mr Yediyurappa was given a place on his party’s parliamentary board, with a clear eye on his support in the Lingayat community. It is widely believed that the state authorities pussyfooted around the arrest of the religious leader from the community, despite the seriousness of the charges, because of reluctance to upset Lingayat voters so close to elections.

It isn’t just the BJP that is being cautious. Congress leaders, usually outspoken, have been silent on this case. In early August, the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi had visited the Chitradurga mutt and was given the ishta linga deeksha or initiation into the community by Shivamurthy Sharanaru. He was accompanied on that visit by state party president DK Shivakumar. Before the 2018 Karnataka election, the Congress had stirred Controversy in its bid to make inroads into the Lingayat vote – by suggesting that Lingayats should be considered part of a separate religion.


Rahul Gandhi with seers at Sri Murugarajendra Mutt in Chitradurga in Karnataka.

It is certain that no party wants to offend the community or alienate them. It is also possible that this is a factor being considered despite the disturbing nature of the charges against the prominent mutt head.

There were protests over the delay in arresting the accused – including by Dalit groups in Chitradurga. Some political leaders did question the slowness of police action.

Before the arrest, the Congress’s Priyank Kharge tweeted: “It has been almost a week since a POSCO case has been filed and the Govt seems to be keen on protecting its own image than deliver justice.”

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Lahar Singh Siroya said, “The Karnataka government and all political parties have to ensure that there are no pulls, pressures, politics or interference in this case. The girls deserve nothing but justice. If there is even an iota of doubt that interests of justice will be served better if this case is transferred outside Karnataka, then that too should be considered.”

The hearing in the seer’s anticipatory bail application was adjourned till Friday, by which time Shivamurthy Sharanaru had been arrested.

Soon after his arrest, the mutt head complained of chest pains and was hospitalised.

Chief minister Bommai had said the police had full freedom in the case. The arrest did finally happen – many days too late according to many- and just a day ahead of the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Karnataka. It was necessary to fix the optics before the PM’s visit.

The ruling BJP will hope that his followers to do not extract a price for this while voting.

Maya Sharma is a senior television journalist and writer based in Bengaluru.

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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