Two of Hinduism's key religious heads attached to traditional monasteries knowns as 'mutts' have opposed BJP leader Narendra Modi's bid for prime-ministership, calling him a "grave sinner" trying to "mislead" the nation.
The two pontiffs – one heads the Puri peeth (seat) of the Advaita school of Hindu philosophy, while the other leads its Dwarka chapter – called into question Modi's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and his use of "illegal money" in these elections.
Swami Adhokshjan Devtirth of the Puri seat said he would travel to Varanasi in the first week of May to campaign against Modi among the city's religious establishment. He said he would visit the key institutions of Kashi Vidyat Parishad, Varanasi 'mattadhish' and Adi Shankarcharya Dharmothyan Sansad. He said he would extend invitation to Islamic scholars too.
"For me Modi is grave sinner who has committed the highest sin in Hinduism, which is murder. He has blood on his hands and face," Swami Adhokshjan Devtirth told HT. Modi is often accused of giving rioters a freehand at the time but several inquiries have found insufficient evidence to charge him.
According to tradition, Adi Sankaracharya, the renowned 8th-century saint-philosopher, founded the four "mutts" at Sringeri, Puri, Dwaraka and Badrinath.
The head of the Dwarka seat, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, has accused Modi of giving the wrong impression to people about his "humble origins". "Modi today is not the tea-seller but a wealthy billionaire," he said in a statement.
The harsh criticism from the spiritual figureheads may not quite stop Modi's juggernaut but it nonetheless casts a shadow at a time when the BJP is favourite to win the 2014 elections.
Saraswati had earlier raised objections to "Har Har Modi", a campaign slogan used by Modi's supporters, because it was a rip-off of a religious incantation for Hindu God Shiva.
Established religious leaders from the "matts" have always opposed the saffron Hindutva because they see ceding ground to the saffron camp. "They feel Hinduism had been misused at the hands of BJP," said Pandit NK Sharma, a vedic scholar and head of the Universal Association of Spiritual Association.