Karnataka Assembly election results | BJP tripped on experiments with caste matrix

The Hindutva drive, and tinkering with the reservation matrix, does not seem to have worked well for BJP

May 13, 2023 10:20 pm | Updated May 14, 2023 11:35 am IST - Bengaluru

The BJP’s experiments to tinker with the reservation matrix months before the Karnataka State Assembly elections, a series of its decisions that are believed to have riled the influential Lingayat community, and a perceived threat to minorities under the saffron party’s rule, appear to have backfired on the party as the poll outcome indicates.

The party, which was already on the backfoot over the demand for reservation by the Panchamsalis, the numerically stronger Veerashaiva-Lingayat subsect, and “forced” stepping down of Lingayat strongman B.S. Yediyurappa from the post of Chief Minister, seem to have further cornered the Linagayat narrative alongside the ignominious exits of former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and former Deputy Chief Minister Lakshman Savadi.

The powerful land-owning community of the north Karnataka region appears to have backed the Congress in this election, with 34 Veerashaiva-Lingayats getting elected on the Congress ticket as opposed to only 18 elected on the BJP ticket. In the 2018 Assembly election, 38 BJP legislators were Veerashaiva-Lingayats, following the row over the movement for a separate Lingayat religion that resulted in the Congress having only 16 Veerashaiva-Lingayat legislators.

Since 2008, when the first BJP government was formed riding on Lingayat support, the 2023 results threw up the highest number of Lingayat legislators for the Congress.

Reserved seats

Another big loss for the BJP came from reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). Tinkering with the SCs’ internal reservation was resented by the communities and resulted in sporadic violence. While the BJP government claimed credit for taking a “historic decision” on increasing the quota matrix, it fell short of providing a framework to back it against any legal challenge, a point that was raised repeatedly in the run-up to the elections. The Congress recorded big wins in the reserved constituencies, taking 22 out of 36 constituencies reserved for SCs, up from 12 in 2018, and 14 of the 15 constituencies reserved for STs, up from eight in 2018. The most popular ST leader in the State, Minister B. Sriramulu, also had to taste defeat.

Kharge factor

The elevation of Mallikarjun Kharge as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) president is also believed to have worked in favour of the Congress as Dalit communities in both the Left and the Right are believed to have voted for the Congress. Traditionally, the Dalit Left votes for the BJP.

The perceived threat to Muslims under the BJP government, which took a number of controversial decisions, including on wearing the hijab, the anti-conversion Bill, the anti-cow slaughter Bill, on azaan (call to prayer), and eventually, the scrapping of 4% reservation to Muslims, appear to have consolidated the minority votes in favour of Congress. While the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) was hoping to get a chunk of the minority votes to boost its tally, this does not appear to have worked out, while the BJP had not given a ticket to Muslims.

While the BJP does have a large base in the Vokkaliga-dominated region, its presence has dropped to six seats from nine seats earlier, though it had offered reservation to the community. Nevertheless, it improved its tally in terms of the number of votes in several constituencies.

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