In focus:Bombay Karnataka | Karnataka 2018

River and religion in Lingayat heartland

An agitation over the sharing of Mahadayi waters in Hubballi. File

An agitation over the sharing of Mahadayi waters in Hubballi. File  


The major issues here are recommendation for minority status for the community, and the sharing of the Mahadayi river water.

Under the Maratha Peshwa rule before the arrival of the British, part of the Bombay Presidency under the Raj, in Bombay State after Independence and part of Karnataka after reorganisation, the Bombay Karnataka (or Mumbai Karnataka) region has a diverse socio-cultural history.

Taking birth in the Western Ghats, the Malaprabha river meets the massive Krishna at Koodalasangama in Bagalkot district of Karnataka, symbolising the convergence of Marathi and Kannada cultures that coexist in the region. This pilgrimage centre for Lingayats, where 12th century social reformer Basavanna or Basaveshwara (considered the founder of Lingayatism) is said to have attained “union with Almighty”, has gained political significance after the Karnataka government sent a recommendation to accord religious minority status to the community.


A region that raised the voice for unification of Karnataka and gave six Chief Ministers to the State but still behind in development has two issues connected to Koodalasangama this election — the Lingayat issue and the Kalasa Banduri Nala project to draw water to the Malaprabha from the Mahadayi river, which is now before the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal.

Support of the Lingayat community, a major chunk of the population in the seven districts of Bombay Karnataka, is considered crucial for any political party. This explains Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s reference to Basavanna during the launch of the campaign in the region. While the Congress hopes to gain from the recommendation the State government made on the Lingayat minority status, the BJP is accusing the Congress of “dividing Hindu society”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reluctance to intervene in the Mahadayi water-sharing issue has given ammunition for the Congress, while the BJP is harping on former Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s election address in Goa on not sharing a single drop of water from the Mahadayi. A farmers’ agitation on the issue has crossed two years now, as name calling and politicking continues.

Politically active region

The region has always been politically active. The Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa (Lingayat leader who is now back in the BJP) was launched in Haveri. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was launched as an AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) leader in Hubballi, leading to his expulsion from the Janata Dal(S). Once a Congress bastion, where the Janata parivar made inroads subsequently, the region started favouring the BJP after the 1994 Idgah Maidan riots in Hubballi. The split in the Janata parivar only aided it. The unceremonious ouster of Veerendra Patil (a Lingayat) cost the Congress dear in 1994.

The region stood by Mr. Yeddyurappa, when he played the “betrayal card” (after the fall of the JD(S)-BJP coalition) in 2008, helping him form the first BJP government in Karnataka.

The big break for the BJP came in the 2004 elections, when the BJP won 33 of the 57 seats in the region, followed by the Congress with 14. With Mr. Yeddyurappa’s “betrayal card”, the BJP added five more seats in the 2008 elections, taking the tally to 38, while the Congress retained its seats.

Reverse situation in 2013

But in 2013, it was almost the reverse. The anti-incumbency factor, coupled with the split within the party, and Mr. Yeddyurappa’s “betrayal card” (this time against his own party leaders) helped the Congress win 34 seats. The BJP stood at 14, while the KJP bagged two.

While the general opinion is that the Lingayat and Mahadayi issues will have an influence on the polls, Leader of the Opposition Jagadish Shettear doesn’t think so. “The Lingayat issue will boomerang on the Congress. But we are seeking votes for good governance and to end the misrule and corruption of the Siddaramaiah government,” he says. Party insiders say they are looking for more help from the Prime Minister.

Basavaraj Horatti, a Minister during the JD(S) rule and president of the Jagatika Lingayat Mahasabha, says Lingayat and Mahadayi issues are crucial. “The Lingayat issue will definitely influence people’s choice this time. Instead of trying to resolve the Mahadayi issue, Mr. Yeddyurappa enacted a drama to fool people, which fell flat,” he says.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 1:51:23 PM |

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