Updated: March 29, 2019 2:25:09 am
“You may ask what a sanyasi can do in the Lok Sabha. My answer is what can’t he do,” said Jaisiddheshwar Mahaswamiji, the BJP candidate for the Solapur Lok Sabha constituency in western Maharashtra.
Before a gathering of people in the Solapur Market Yard, Mahaswamiji is making his stump speech. “A sadhu doesn’t live for himself but for everyone. So far, I have worked in educational, social and religious fields. Now, Guardian Minister Vijaykumar Deshmukh has called me to do the work of nation building and Cooperation Minister Subhash Deshmukh has extended his cooperation,” he said. Click here for more election news
Unlike other candidates who are seen bowing to their voters during campaigns, here, the voters bow before Mahaswamiji — a seer of the Veerashaiva Lingayat community — when he goes around campaigning. The Lingayat community has significant presence in the constituency. His entire election campaign is being managed by BJP leader Vijaykumar Deshmukh, also from the Lingayat community.
The Solapur seat is reserved for Schedule Castes (SC) and Mahaswamiji belongs to the Beda-Jangam sub-caste that falls in the category.
In the Veershaiva Lingayat community, the Jangams are considered gurus or priests who devote their entire life to a mutt. Before Mahaswamiji’s birth, his father had dedicated him to the service of the Sansthan Hiremath in Goudgaon (Budruk) village in Akkalkot tehsil in Solapur.
The 63-year-old Mahaswamiji has headed the mutt for the last 32 years. “I haven’t entered politics. I am contesting the polls to do the work of nation building and to serve humanity. Politics was not my dream and it will never be my dream,” he said.
But on the most contentious of issue for Lingayats, the demand to be recognised as a separate religion, Mahaswamiji is ready with a response like a practised politician. “Leave it to the government and to the followers of the community.”
The BJP’s decision to field the religious leader was a surprise, but insiders said it was done to pacify the Lingayat community, which was angry after the Fadnavis government renamed the Solapur University after Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar in first week of March. The community had wanted it to be named after Siddheshwar Maharaj, a Lingayat saint.
“I am in contact with the common people, farmers and women and know their issues. Apart from Bhagwad Gita and other Hindu scriptures, I have also given sermons on the Quran. So, I can understand the issues and grief faced by all and can work for them,” the seer said.
After his schooling in Solapur, Mahaswamiji went on to do his graduation and postgraduation from the Banaras Hindu University. He also did a PhD in meditation on salvation among the Saiva Siddhant in Tamil Nadu, Veershaiva Lingayats in Maharashtra and Karnataka and Shaivism in Kashmir.
In the last three decades, he has set up Marathi and Kannada primary and secondary schools, started a junior college as well as degree courses (BCA and BCS) and a boarding school in Akkalkot. Around 900 students study in these schools and colleges every year, he claimed.
“I have attended various social programmes such as mass marriages, blood donations, deaddiction camps in the last three decades and have a good rapport with the people not just from Lingayat community but others as well,” Mahaswamiji said.
He plans to set up an IT hub in Solapur to provide job opportunities to the youth and start skill development courses in Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar Solapur University.
His followers and BJP leaders believe that Mahaswamiji’s large following will work in their favour. “The maharaj does not discriminate and attends programmes of all communities. It will help us,” said Panchappa Menase, secretary of the Shelagi branch of Goudgaon mutt. “The Lok Sabha election is a turning point in Maharaj’s life. After winning the polls, he will work beyond party politics, as he treats everyone as his disciple.”
Another disciple said, “We had some reservations about the Maharaj contesting the polls. He is sacred and doesn’t even drink water without taking a bath. So, we felt it will be difficult for him to enter the political life, as he will have to meet a lot of people every day. But before we could say anything, his candidature was announced and all of us accepted it and decided to work for him.”
Following the announcement of his candidature, a video went viral on the social media that showed Mahaswamiji dancing to a song. It turned out to be a fake video and the police booked three persons. “God should give some wisdom to such brainless people,” he said.
Mahaswamiji will face Congress’ Sushil Kumar Shinde and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s Prakash Ambedkar on April 18.
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