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The battle for Lingayat votes

As Yediyurappa’s sway over Lingayats is seen as waning, Congress is trying to woo the community

August 25, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 01:07 am IST

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at the Murugha Mutt.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at the Murugha Mutt. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Veerashaiva-Lingayat caste narrative in Karnataka politics has come to the fore again as the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition party, the Congress, are battling for this crucial vote bank, about eight months before the Assembly polls.

Earlier this month, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the Murugha Mutt, a prominent Lingayat mutt in central Karnataka, where he underwent a ‘Linga Dharana’ initiation. Soon after, the BJP inducted Lingayat strongman and former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa into the party’s Parliamentary Board and Central Election Committee. The 79-year-old’s elevation to the two key panels is being viewed as an attempt by the party to soothe the hurt pride of the Lingayat leader after he was forced to step down from the Chief Minister’s post. Days later, former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Siddaramaiah, who has been accused of attempting to divide the community by supporting a movement for a separate religion status to them in 2017, met the seer of Rambhapuri Mutt, another prominent religious institution. He is believed to have explained to the seer the sequences of events that led to that movement. The KPCC campaign committee head M.B. Patil has also been criss-crossing the State visiting Lingayat mutts.

The Congress’s attempts to woo back Lingayat voters comes at a time when Mr. Yediyurappa’s sway over the community is seen as waning. Observers of Lingayat politics believe that the community stood by him in the past since he had a chance to become the Chief Minister, which will not be the case in the next election.

In a scenario where the Lingayat voter is looking for an alternative, the Congress believes that it is the best choice, given that the JD(S) is perceived as a party of the Vokkaligas. The Congress is said to believe that riding on the combination of votes of the minorities, backward classes, especially the Kurubas, and the Lingayats with a chunk of support from the Scheduled Castes (SCs) would be its best bet to return to power. However, it still has to fight with the JD(S) for the Vokkaliga votes in south Karnataka despite D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, helming the KPCC.

For the parties, the politically aware Lingayats remain crucial since an average 60 Veerashaiva-Lingayats have been getting elected as members to the 224–member Assembly since 2008. The community leaders believe that their political clout diminished post 2008 when about eight constituencies that had returned only Lingayat legislators till then were subsumed under other constituencies and about 22 such constituencies were reserved for SCs and Scheduled Tribes in the delimitation exercise. Before that, an average 70 legislators were getting elected to the Assembly. In the reserved constituencies too, Lingayat support is seen as decisive. Even in the battle for Vokkaliga votes in south Karnataka, Lingayats are believed to be decisive in many constituencies in Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Hassan and Tumakuru. Barring 2013, when Mr. Yediyurappa broke away from BJP to form the Karnataka Janata Paksha, more than 50% of the total Lingayat legislators elected to the Assembly have belonged to the BJP since 2004.

Already battling the anti-incumbency factor with allegations of corruption and weak governance, the BJP government is in a fix over the demand for 2A reservation status by the Panchamasalis, a powerful Lingayat sub-sect, and for the inclusion of all Lingayat sub-sects in the Central OBC list. Observers also believe that the fact that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, a Lingayat, succeeded Mr. Yediyurappa has not fully satisfied the community. With the parties already in election mode, Lingayat politics is likely to turn crucial like it did in 2013 and 2018.

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