Rajanath singh addresses a crowd in Karnataka on Saturday.(HT Photo)
Rajanath singh addresses a crowd in Karnataka on Saturday.(HT Photo)

Rajnath Singh woos Lingayat in North Karnataka, slams ‘divisive’ Congress step

The Lingayats are the most dominant and politically influential community in Karnataka.
Hindustan Times, Gulbarga/Kalburgi | By Kumar Uttam
UPDATED ON MAY 05, 2018 11:39 PM IST

It is almost noon when home minister Rajnath Singh arrives in this Lingayat-dominated region to address his first meeting in the Karnataka election campaign. The local candidate warms up the audience that has been waiting for two hours. Then it is Singh’s turn. His point is simple but direct: how the Lingayats vote in North Karnataka may well decide the state’s next chief minister, he says.

Lingayats are the most dominant and politically influential community in the state, and make up around 15% of its population. They are concentrated in the northern parts of Karnataka.

That explains Singh’s presence here.

The senior-most member of Narendra Modi’s council of ministers, Singh is on the second leg of his campaign in the election-bound state. He has chosen to focus on the northern part, not far from Hyderabad, where indecision among Lingayats is worrying the BJP. His task is cut out: to convince Lingayats to stay with the BJP and vote for BS Yeddyurappa, the 75-plus former chief minister who comes from the same community. It was under Singh as the BJP president that the party formed its first government in the state in 2008.

What’s made Singh and the BJP’s job tougher is the decision by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government to recognise Lingayatism as a separate religion, distinct from Hinduism. It’s a decision that has to be ratified by the centre, and its political impact is as yet unclear, but some experts are of the opinion that it is a smart political move by the chief minister. The BJP’s hopes rest on the Lingayats not deserting it and Yeddyurappa.

“There is a conspiracy to divide Lingayat in the name of separate religious status to them. Where was Siddaramiah sleeping for the last four years? This is to stop BS Yeddyurappa from becoming the chief minister,” Singh says in the meeting at Sedam assembly constituency of Kalaburgi district.

“The last time I was here, you gave us our first government. Do not disappoint us this time. The separate religion status is just a ploy to divide you all and stop Yeddyurappa,” Singh adds. The BJP candidate from Sedam is Rajkumar Patil , a Lingayat, who has lost three elections here by narrow margin and now depends on a consolidation among the community and anti-incumbency.

From Sedam, Singh takes a 20-minute helicopter ride to Afzalpur constituency.

“I am six-time MLA from the Congress and I have joined the BJP,” says MV Guttedar as he greets Singh at the helipad in Afzalpur. Such somersaults define the politics of north Karnataka and the fine calculation political parties are doing to win.

At Afzalpur, Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a scheduled caste leader from Uttar Pradesh, waits for Singh on the dais. This region is a stronghold of Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, a Scheduled Caste stalwart, and the BJP is desperate to queer his pitch. Guttedar is an arrow in the quiver, but Singh’s message is the same as it was in Sedam: Lingayats remain united.

“Bhagwan Basavana (the 12th century philosopher who laid down the tenets of the Lingayat religion) worked for upliftment of society. Now Congress is trying to divide Lingayats. It’s not Sidda Sarkar, it is a Nidde Sarkar (sleeping government). He (the CM) was sleeping for four years and woke up in the fifth to divide Lingayats. Don’t get carried away,” Singh said at the National Function Hall grounds.

The crowd erupts in cheers, as Singh attacks the Congress government for celebrating Tipu Sultan Jayanti. The BJP campaign in Karnataka has a clear Hindutva overtone, and Singh doesn’t mind speaking about the killing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP workers in Karnataka.

His next stop is Chittapur. The local Congress candidate is Priyank Kharge, son of Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, and a popular face in Karnataka. Here Singh climbs down, then up again to garland a statue of Basavanna at a roundabout, showing no discomfort from a leg fracture he suffered last year. Here again, the message is the same: the Lingayats have to remain united if they want to see one of their own, Yeddyurappa, become the next chief minister.

By 5 pm, Singh is in Gulbarga town. A message from the pilot is passed on to him — they have to leave before the sun sets. But the response from the crowd forces him to stay on. He drives through the main road of Shahbad and speaks at another meeting. It’s once again about the Lingayat issue. “The Congress government at the centre in 2013 rejected a proposal for separate religion status for Lingayat. Don’t get swayed away by the divisive politics of Congress,” Singh says.

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