High-decibel campaigning for the Karnataka Assembly polls is on with the ruling BJP and Congress aiming to bag 150 seats in the 224-member Assembly and wooing the Lingayat community which comprises 18 per cent of the state’s population and is a kingmaker. The political arithmetic of Karnataka is that the Lingayat community, an upper caste which comprises 18 per cent of the state population, dominates districts of the northern part of the state. During the tenure of Congress leader Virendra Patil as Chief Minister, Lingayat community used to back the grand-old party and was considered its vote bank. The Congress lost the support of the Lingayat community when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi removed Patil, who hailed from the community, from the Chief Minister’s post.
The community voted for BJP during the tenure of senior party leader B S Yediyurappa. As soon as the BJP removed Yediyurappa from the Chief Minister’s post, after which he quit the party, the BJP lost the subsequent polls. However, when he came back to the BJP’s fold, the Lingayat community again voted for the BJP and it came to power in the subsequent polls. Karnataka’s political history shows that the Lingayat community is the kingmaker. Lingayats hold the key to around 100 seats in the Assembly. In the 2018 Assembly polls, 60 MLAs were from the Lingayat community. The political power of the community can be gauged from the fact that when in 2021, the BJP decided to change the chief minister for replacing Lingayat leader Yediyurappa, Basavraj Bommai, a Lingayat leader, was chosen.
Despite removing Yediyurappa from the Chief Minister’s post, the BJP, realising his influence, made him the member of the party’s parliamentary board, the highest decision-making body of the saffron party. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah continue to show their respect to him on public forums. On the other hand, the Congress is also making all out efforts to woo the Lingayat community. As soon as former chief minister and BJP leader Jagadish Shettar who comes from the Lingayat community, decided to quit the saffron party, the Congress gladly welcomed him into its fold. Shettar and another Lingayat leader Laxaman Savadi quit the BJP after they were denied tickets to contest the Assembly polls.
In fact, by inducting Shettar and Savadi, the Congress has initiated a campaign to project the BJP as an “anti-Lingayat” party. The move may or may not work. The BJP however said that if the Lingayat community wants a Lingayat leader to be a chief minister, it should vote for the saffron party. In the past 50 years, since 1967, the Congress has not made any Lingayat Chief Minister except Virendra Patil for nine months. Now with the induction of Shettar and Savadi, the Congress is trying to send a clear political message for Lingayat voters. But will the Lingayat shift their allegiance to the Congress or remain with the BJP is something that will be seen on May 10 when Karnataka goes to polls.
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