Lingayat Setback for BJP
Mutt pontiffs come out in support of the Congress
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