Granting religious minority status to the Lingayat community in Karnataka was supposed to be the trump card of the Congress. Yet the BJP walked away with a lion’s share of the community-dominated constituencies in the assembly election that swept away the Congress from power in the state.
While the BJP kept its grip over the Lingayats, the Congress ended up antagonising the other sections of society with its all-out wooing of the dominant community. Chief minister Siddaramaiah’s Lingayat appeasement thus proved to be a miserable failure.
Tuesday’s election results emphasised the BJP’s hold over the Lingayats, who seemed to have lined up behind BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa, who belongs to the community. The BJP strategists have successfully tapped into the community sentiments sparked by the Congress.
When the Karnataka government granted the religious minority status to the Lingayats, which is second only to the dalits in Karnakata, it was considered to be Siddaramaiah’s master stroke to dent the BJP’s traditional vote bank. The strategy did not pay off. The Congress could not cut inroads into the Lingayat bastions and it even found its support eroding elsewhere.
The Congress could only make its presence felt in coastal Karnataka, while the BJP advanced in Hyderabad Karnataka, Mumbai Karnataka and central regions. The Congress leaders are still in shock over the BJP’s spectacular performance in Lingayat areas.
The Vokkaligas, the other crucial community, stood by the Janata Dal (S).
The bait not taken
The Lingayats stood by former chief minister Yeddyurappa even as they accepted the religious minority status offered by Siddaramaiah. They clearly preferred a chief minister from among them. The BJP acted sensibly by patching up with Yeddyurappa, who had walked out of the BJP and formed his own party before the 2013 assembly election.
The BJP owes its re-entry into south India to the support by the Lingayats and the presence of Yeddyurappa.
Siddaramaiah’s decision to grant the religious minority status to the Lingayats was seen as a move to split the community along political lines. The Congress leader is on a sticky wicket after leading the party to a humiliating defeat. He will find it hard to explain why the BJP led in 42 constituencies dominated by the Lingayats.
The London show
The 2018 Karnataka assembly election was fought over the legacy of a 12th century social reformer. Basava, the historical founder of the Lingayat community, was suddenly on the centre stage. From Delhi to London, leaders dropped his name wherever they could.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Congress president Rahul Gandhi made it a point to strike a chord with the community by wishing them on Basava’s birthday. Shah flew to Bengaluru to garland the reformer’s statue.
Modi had planned his gestures in advance. He garlanded a Basava statue in London in April. He unveiled the statue by the Thames during one of his visits to London in 2015.
Modi even claimed that Basava was the father of Indian democracy in a speech in Parliament. The Congress said that the prime minister was harping on Basava with an eye on the poll.
National leaders of the BJP and the Congress peppered their election speeches with Basava’s aphorisms. The tendency was a cause of irritation to many influential Lingayats who opposed the use of their leader’s name for petty political purposes.