Despite minority status to Lingayats, Congress may not benefit much in Karnataka elections
The Congress’ gamble to win over the Lingayats in poll-bound Karnataka by according minority religious status to the community appears unlikely to deliver with even the party conceding that it does not expect major electoral dividend from it.
While the Congress could make a dent of 5-10%, the majority of the community members remain the BJP loyalists. And those Lingayats who are upset with the BJP but don’t want to vote for the Congress might stay indoors or press the NOTA button on May 12 when the voting for the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly takes place.
A similar situation was witnessed in December last year in Gujarat where a substantial number of Patels who were upset with the BJP preferred None of The Above (NOTA) option over the Congress or boycotted the elections.
Lingayats, who constitute 17% of the state’s population and influence the outcome in 90-100 constituencies, have for years now supported the BJP. They moved away from the Congress in 1990 when Rajiv Gandhi unceremoniously removed Veerendra Patil as the chief minister in less than a year.
Since then the, Congress has been trying to win back the support of the community members. The then Congress president Sonia Gandhi had specially flown to Karnataka in April 2012 to attend the 105th birthday celebrations of Swami Shivakumara of the Tumakuru-based Siddaganga Math. The seer, who turned 111 on April 1 this year, heads 125 institutions and provides education and food to thousands of students and has a huge following across the state’s political and social spectrum.
Junior pontiff Siddalinga Swami refused to comment on the issue but insisted that he would appeal to the followers of the Math to cast their votes in large numbers. “But we don’t tell them to vote for any particular party. That is their democratic right and their choice,” he said.
But chief minister Siddaramaiah’s decision to accord minority religious status to Lingayats, including the Veerashaivas, is being viewed with some scepticism.
“It was clearly an attempt to divide the community but people are clever enough to understand the real motive behind the move,” said H Doreswamy, a businessman in Davanagere, once known as Manchester of Karnataka for having a large number of cotton mills in the area.
D Patil, a resident of Chitradurga, echoed his views. ‘It is a plan to divide the Hindus but they (Congress) won’t succeed,” he said.
State Congress chief G Parameshwara, however, dismissed suggestions that there was political motive behind the move but maintained that the ruling party did not expect any major electoral dividend from it.
Political analysts agree.
“The Lingayat-Veerashaiva divide is not going to benefit the Congress as much as the party thought it would. The reason is that the chief minister seems to have thrown his weight behind the long-standing demand by a section of Lingayats without really understanding the complexity of the issue,” said A Narayana, associate professor for public policy at the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University.
“The government’s decision seems to have incurred the wrath of not just non-Lingayat Hindus but also the ordinary Lingayats who do not see themselves to be different in any way from Veerashaivas. A very small section of Lingayats may have come to favour the Congress,” he said.
BJP’s Karnataka in-charge P Muralidhar Rao had attacked the Congress for the move. “Congress is carrying forward the divide and rule policy of the Britishers in India,” he had said.
However, a section in the Congress believes that the ruling party stands to gain even if the move pushes 20% Lingayats away from the BJP. “We hope to get 20% Lingayat votes and that will give us a substantial lead over our rivals,” a Karnataka Congress leader said.
But for now, that does not seem very realistic.