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Last phase is all about caste

india Updated: May 20, 2008 00:05 IST
Yogesh Joshi

As parties get ready for the third and final phase of elections on May 22, the focus will be the Lingayat community, which dominates politics in north Karnataka. A total of 69 constituencies in eight districts, mostly bordering Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh, go to the polls in this round.

The Lingayats and Vokalligas dominate the landscape of Karnataka politics. The Brahmins, who account for 45 per cent of the population, largely support the Lingayats. Other important players are the Muslims and Dalits, who together constitute around 30 per cent of the state's population and are spread across the state.

Analysts say the key to Bangalore lies in the Lingayat vote. And the BJP has been going all out to woo the Lingayats (16 per cent of state's 5 crore population). It has projected BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, as its CM candidate. In fact, the saffron party has focussed on the central and northern parts of the state throughout its campaign.

BJP leader and state Arun Jaitley has been camping out in Hubli since May 13. A number of senior leaders, such as LK Advani and Narendra Modi, have addressed rallies in the region.

The Congress, for its part, is banking on backward castes, minorities and to some extent, the Vokkaligas, to see it through. Party president Sonia Gandhi has been campaigning in the region.

There is common apprehension among many in north Karnataka that the Congress may have entered into a tacit understanding with the JD-S, which is perceived as anti-Lingayat and anti-north Karnataka.

In this situation, it appears that the third phase will largely be a contest between the Congress and the BJP. While the BJP has made terrorism and stability the main poll issues, the Congress is relying on pro-poor announcements.