Amidst caste census row, BJP attempts to stitch a Lingayat-Vokkaliga alliance

November 11, 2023 08:59 pm | Updated 11:27 pm IST - Bengaluru

Newly-appointed Karnataka BJP president  B.Y. Vijayendra with JD (S) State president H D Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru. File photo

Newly-appointed Karnataka BJP president  B.Y. Vijayendra with JD (S) State president H D Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru. File photo | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Bharatiya Janata Party, smarting from a humiliating Assembly poll defeat in Karnataka, is trying to script a comeback by stitching a Lingayat-Vokkaliga alliance which in the past has proved electorally formidable. The recent alliance with Janata Dal (Secular), with its Vokkaliga vote base, and anointing as party chief B.Y. Vijayendra, son of Lingayat strongman B.S. Yediyurappa, fits this pattern. 

This attempt at an alliance between the two land-owning communities, that have dominated the State’s politics for decades, is significant given that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, an Ahinda (Kannada acronym for Minorities, OBCs and Dalits combine) leader, is the Chief Minister of the State, and D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, is vying for the top post.

Then and now

Whenever the Lingayats and Vokkaligas have consolidated in favour of a party -- like to the Janata Party in the 1980s and to Janata Dal in 1994 -- the party came to power. In 2018 Assembly polls too, the two are said to have consolidated against the then Congress government led by Mr. Siddaramaiah, leading to its defeat.

The attempt now to consolidate the support of these two communities comes amidst chatter about the caste census report, an idea that the Congress has been championing across the country and Mr. Siddaramaiah has said he was committed to accepting it. Both communities and their organisations have been unanimously arguing that the census has “undercounted” them and it should be set aside and a fresh one done.

“An upper caste (Gowda, Lingayat, Brahmin) consolidation against Ahinda of the Congress, with sections of Ahinda already voting for us, is what seems to be the strategy. This ensured the defeat of Congress in 2018,” said a senior BJP party strategist, adding that a lot also depends on how Karnataka government and Congress handles the “explosive” caste census issue in the next six months.

“The Vokkaliga-Lingayat alliance can deliver windfalls in South Karnataka, where there is a considerable Lingayat population too and is also the region from where most fo the firepower of the State government - Mr. Siddaramaiah and Mr. Shivakumar - come from,” a senior BJP leader said. 

However, State government may keep all action on the caste-census report in abeyance till after Lok Sabha elections. “The previous Basavaraj Bommai-led government tried to meddle with the reservation matrix and it left everyone unhappy, costing the BJP dearly. In the light of this experience, the Congress may skip the caste census issue for now,” a senior Congress leader said. “On the contrary, Congress may recommend the inclusion of all sub-castes of Vokkaligas and Veerashaiva-Lingayats in the Central OBC list, a long standing demand of these communities, to the Union government and put the ball back in BJP’s court,” he added. 

Wooing back Lingayats

For now BJP’s decision to make Mr. Vijayendra party chief is aimed at wooing the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community. “The community, which forms our strong support base, was upset at how B.S. Yediyurappa was forced to resign. In the 2023 Assembly polls the party suffered considerable dip in votes in Kittur Karnataka, Kalyana Karnataka and Central Karnataka. An alliance with JD(S) was also seen as the party moving away from the Lingayats, which has now been balanced. Given that Lingayats haven’t been given any big leadership position in Congress, we hope they return to our fold,” a senior BJP leader said. 

H.M. Renuka Prasanna, national secretary, All-India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, said that it is too early to say how the community will react. “Mr. Vijayendra’s appointment is seen as a compensation to the unceremonious exit of Mr. Yediyurappa and the humiliation meted out to Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi. But Mr. Vijayendra leading the party in an Assembly election and he leading the party in a Parliamentary poll will be perceived differently.”

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