Lin­gayat Set­back for BJP

Mutt pon­tiffs come out in sup­port of the Congress

India Today - - STATES - By Aravind Gowda

It’s not look­ing good (for the BJP). With barely a month to go for the assem­bly elec­tions, a call by Mate Ma­hadevi, the most revered of Lin­gayat re­li­gious lead­ers, ask­ing the com­mu­nity to vote for the Congress, could spell big trou­ble for the BJP in Kar­nataka. This, when the saf­fron lead­er­ship is al­ready strug­gling to con­tain an unan­tic­i­pated re­bel­lion by ticket as­pi­rants af­ter the party de­clared its first list of can­di­dates on April 8.

Just days af­ter BJP chief Amit Shah’s fre­netic for­ays to can­vass sup­port of the in­flu­en­tial Lin­gayat and Veerashaiva mutts, Ma­hadevi, the first woman seer to head the Basava Dharma Peeta (the most in­flu­en­tial Lin­gayat cen­tre of re­li­gious learn­ing in north

Kar­nataka), de­liv­ered the shocker: “I want all Lingayats to vote for the Congress party, as Chief Min­is­ter Sid­dara­ma­iah is hon­estly es­pous­ing the cause of a separate re­li­gion sta­tus for us,” she de­clared at a con­gre­ga­tion of Lin­gayat seers in Ben­galuru on April 7.

Her an­nounce­ment, which is backed by 30 other Lin­gayat seers, could po­ten­tially up­set the BJP’s elec­toral ap­ple­cart. Lingayats and Veerashaivas, com­pris­ing 16 per cent of the elec­torate, have tra­di­tion­ally been BJP sup­port­ers. But now, Chief Min­is­ter Sid­dara­ma­iah’s ploy of promis­ing Lingayats a separate re­li­gious iden­tity, in­de­pen­dent of Hin­duism, ap­pears to be turn­ing the com­mu­nity to­wards the Congress side.

Basave­g­ouda H.P., a young leader from Raichur district where the Lingayats are the dom­i­nant com­mu­nity, says that although the BJP’s chief min­is­ter can­di­date B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa was an undis­puted com­mu­nity leader, “he is not even com­mit­ting to tak­ing up our cause if he be­comes the chief min­is­ter again”.

There are cur­rently 50 Lin­gayat leg­is­la­tors in the state assem­bly (of which Congress has 29, and the BJP 16) and the saf­fron party was hop­ing to in­crease its tally. Lin­gayat lead­ers say the BJP must clar­ify its stand if the party wants their sup­port. “Sup­port begets sup­port. We will con­tinue our fight till our de­mand is met,” says Shiva­murthy Shivacharya Swami of the Sri Mu­ru­gara­jen­dra mutt.

In 2013, Yed­dyu­rappa, then head­ing his own po­lit­i­cal out­fit, the short-lived Kar­nataka Janata Pak­sha (KJP), played spoiler for the BJP in at least 30 Lin­gayat-dom­i­nated con­stituen­cies. This time, says Ben­galuru-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst A. Veer­appa, the is­sue of a separate re­li­gion for Lingayats could im­pact up to 80 assem­bly con­stituen­cies in the 225-seat house.

Yed­dyu­rappa, how­ever, in­sists that only a few Lin­gayat seers ac­tu­ally share Ma­hadevi’s views. “The com­mu­nity is with us, and so are the other ma­jor com­mu­ni­ties. I am con­fi­dent of reach­ing the tar­get of 150 seats,” the former chief min­is­ter said in Ben­galuru on April 9.

But mak­ing mat­ters worse, the former chief min­is­ter now has a re­volt on his hands. No less than 15 hope­fuls who were de­nied BJP tick­ets in the first list of 72 can­di­dates, de­clared their in­ten­tion to con­test as in­de­pen­dents. An­a­lysts say this could fur­ther dim the party’s prospects in the af­fected seg­ments.

THE CHARGED POL­I­TICS OF LINGAYATS’ RE­LI­GIOUS STA­TUS WILL BE KEY IN 80 ASSEM­BLY SEATS

NEW FORCE At the Fo­rum of Lin­gayat Mathad­hipathies in Ben­galuru on April 7, 30 pon­tiffs en­dorsed the Congress

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