The Bombay Karnataka region, comprising Dharwad, Haveri, Gadag, Belgaum, Bijapur, Bagalkot and Uttara Kannada, was once a bastion of the Congress. Later, the Janata Parivar held sway over the area, and the last two elections have witnessed a clear swing towards the BJP.

The swing slowly began with the Hubli Idgah Maidan row in 1994 and since then has seen a steady growth. There is no denying the fact that the Lingayat community has had a major role in this.

The “betrayal” card played by the former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, during the 2008 Assembly elections after his then alliance partner H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD (S) broke the agreement on the 20-month chief ministerial term for each — had an impact on the electorate.

Mr. Yeddyurappa is at it again. He launched the Karnataka Janata Paksha after the BJP made him step down as Chief Minister following corruption charges and is giving sleepless nights to BJP.

Unlike the Congress, where Lingayat leaders are complaining about the short shrift given to the community, the BJP took the initial step towards nullifying the “KJP factor” by appointing another Lingayat leader Jagadish Shettar as Chief Minister.

The BJP has now started firing salvos at Mr. Yeddyurappa, starting from Haveri, from where the KJP was launched. Curiously, Mr. Shettar too is playing the “betrayal” card against Mr. Yeddyurappa by obliquely saying that the latter hatched a conspiracy to unseat a north Karnataka Lingayat leader.

Having succeeded in getting four of the five BJP MLAs, including the former Minister C.M. Udasi, to his side in Haveri district, it looks like Mr. Yeddyurappa can give a tough fight to the BJP.

The BJP, on its part, has managed to retain Minister Basavaraj Bommai, once a confidant of Mr. Yeddyurappa. However, the results of the recently held urban local body elections show that the KJP can do considerable damage to BJP’s vote bank. This indirectly helped the Congress. The BJP won 38 of the 56 seats in the seven districts of Bombay Karnataka in 2008 and the Congress 14.

Although JD(S) won four seats, it lost two during the BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’, while the Congress lost one, which lead to the BJP’s tally rising to 41. However, the scenario is different now. Although BJP has managed to keep its flock together in the region, the party is clearly worried.

While Congress and JD (S) hope to capitalise on the infighting in the BJP, the ruling party is trying hard to retain its sway in the area with the help of the Lingayat MLAs who have chosen to continue with it.

  • The region comprises seven districts

  • The Idgah Maidan row in Hubli contributed to the BJP’s growth