When Mahatma Gandhi said that those who believed that religion and politics were not connected, did not understand either, he was referring to the ethics or moral values inculcated in politics from all religions.

However, in the present Indian context the situation is quite different, this is evident from what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did in the recent Parliamentary polls by using the Ram temple in Ayodhya as its poll plank.

If that was not enough, now seers of the two majority communities in Karnataka have gone a step further by openly interfering in the appointments of politicians from their communities to high posts.

It started with Chandrashekhar Swami of the Vishwa Vokkaliga Mahasamsthana Mutth appealing to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to quit in favour of Deputy Chief Minister D. K. Shivakumar. Shivakumar is a Vokkaliga strongman, and the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

If this was not enough, another godman, Channasiddarama Panditaradhya Shivacharya now wants the top most post in the government to go to a Congress politician from the Veerashaiva Lingayat community. He also wants the inclusion of a Lingayat leader as an additional Deputy CM in the Congress-run state government.

This was the cue for Prabhulinga Doddamani, the Ahinda state unit chief, to jump in adding his two bits by warning of “grave consequences” in the event Siddaramaiah is replaced. Siddaramaiah is the face of the Ahinda movement, which stands for Alpasankhyataru (Minorities), Hindulidavaru (Backward Classes), and Dalitaru (Dalits).

The developments follow the ‘split’ in the ruling Congress party in the wake of its ‘comparatively poor performance’ in the Lok Sabha polls this year. While , admittedly, it fared well in bagging nine out of the 28 seats for which the polls were held in the state this time, its performance fell far short of its target of 20 constituencies.

This was against the one constituency in Bengaluru Rural that the party won in 2019 with Shivakumar’s brother, D. Suresh, riding home for the third time as a Parliamentarian. Suresh lost to Deve Gowda’s son-in-law, Dr. C. Manjunath, a rookie politician this time.

This apart, the Congress did manage to eat into the seats that the BJP had bagged in 2019. Then the Opposition party, fighting alone, had won 25 seats with the remaining three going to the Congress, Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), and former actress Sumalatha, an independent candidate, respectively. This time, the BJP-JDS alliance bagged 19 seats, with the BJP accounting for 17.

Accordingly, not satisfied with the party’s performance in the 2024 polls, the Congress’ central leadership unleashed some plain speak. Even though the state unit had fought the elections unitedly, the onus for the below par show fell on Shivakumar. In his role as KPCC president Shivakumar was incharge of the polls in the state.

In the wake of these developments, a section of the Lingayat, Dalit and Muslim ministers has reiterated the demand for at least three more Dy. CM posts in Siddaramaiah’s Cabinet, for now. More importantly, these leaders have now got the support from other sections of the party, troubled as they were earlier by Shivakumar’s growing clout.

Now, however, after the defeat of his brother from Bengaluru Rural in the Lok Sabha polls this time, Shivakumar has become vulnerable. The constituency was considered as the siblings’ fiefdom. Consequently, this has emboldened the dissidents within the party to go public with their demand for additional Dy. CM posts.

Added to this is the call for a change in the KPCC president’s post with leaders like state Home Minister, G. Parameshwara, a Dalit, supporting it. The argument was to uphold the party’s practice of ‘one-man-one-post’. This has further caused more stress to Shivakumar who now fears losing the all important post.

Till the time of writing the Central leadership has remained comparatively silent over these developments which are creating difficulties for Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar. Even though the duo has repeatedly asserted that the decision to appoint additional Dy. CMs rests with the Central leadership of the Congress, it has not helped them much. The party high command has not shown any firm intent to put an end to the internal conflicts.

This has further emboldened the dissenters who have not shied away from getting the seers of their communities to issue calls to prop up their demand. This explains why the Vokkaliga seer, for one, even went so far as to ask Siddaramaiah to vacate his seat for Shivakumar.

Party insiders also feel that the Siddaramaiah-Shivakumar duo cannot escape blame for the current mess. They admit, in private, that the demand for additional Dy. CM posts and for Siddaramaiah to vacate his seat in favour of Shivakumar, could not have come without some ‘backseat driving’ by the two contending stalwarts themselves.

The argument being that neither Siddaramaiah nor Shivakumar want to give up their post or share responsibilities with others. Especially worrisome, however, is the fact that none of the other leaders are privy to the arrangement that was worked out by the party’s central leadership, between the CM and his deputy.

Earlier it was understood that Siddaramaiah would hold the CM’s post for two-and-a-half years, after which Shivakumar would take over. Going by the current dispensation though, this uncertainty is causing more harm to the party than envisaged, much to the glee of the BJP and its alliance partner JD-S.

The two National Democratic Alliance (NDA) associates have been reiterating their claim that the Congress party “would lose power in the next six to eight months”. They are highlighting the prospect of an “internal rebellion, bickering and horse trading”.

However, the open involvement of the seers in Karnataka’s political environment is disturbing. Those in the know, however, claim that there are over a thousand mutths or religious seats in Karnataka. Accordingly, it would be naive to assume that appointments do not happen without the nod of the mutth chiefs.

Just as the Deras in Punjab can influence the voting pattern in an election, in Karnataka too this is something that can be taken for granted. The seers’ influence often extends to bureaucratic, Cabinet, and state Corporation appointments. However, their clout is extending beyond acceptable limits at the moment.

In the recent Lok Sabha elections, Lingayat seer, Dingleswar Swami, had openly declared his intention to contest against Prahlad Joshi, BJP’s incumbent MP from Dharwad, as an Independent. Swami withdrew at the last moment.