KarnatakaElections: A Powerful Lingayat backlash can sink BJP hopes

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Many of the pre-polls published so far indicated that the great chunk of the "Lingayat Vote" is still ambivalent and most likely to be retained by the BJP though with some amount of marginal erosion towards the Congress. 

The BJP strategically hopes to offset this erosion by targeting the Schedule Tribal (ST) community to maintain their vote share. So the elevation of Bellary Reddy Brothers close associate, Sriramulu with projection of him as a Dy CM candidate. Sriramulu belongs to Valmiki-Nayak community and in addition to STs, the BJP pin their hopes on him to connect better with Dalits, a community seen to be annoyed with the BJP.

These electoral calculations at fast glance may seem a clever damage control exercise but at a deeper analysis suggest that it is rather simplistic one. The Valmiki-Nayak community is hardly 6-7% of the population. The Lingayat community 15-17%. The Congress has a larger footprint among the Valmiki-Nayak community, and even if the BJP succeeds in expanding their own at their cost, the net gain expected to BJP could no more be larger than 1% by way of overall vote share. Apart from Valmiki-Nayaks, the BJP can hardly expect to significantly offset their cumulative expected losses in the urban, Dalit & Lingayat segments of the electorate. 

Most of the pre-polls concluded that the erosion of the "Lingayat Vote" is limited and manageable essentially through the analytic prism of issue of Siddaramiah's decision on recommending separate religious status to the community. But even if the numbers projected by these pre-polls are accepted at its face value, what we find is that as an issue, the separate religious status to the community pales into insignificance the deep rooted feelings of slight being nursed by the Lingayat community, considered the backbone of the party's support in the state. 

The first grievance of the Lingayat community is that despite being the backbone of the BJP in the state, with overwhelming majority of their 17 MPs  from their community, the Modi cabinet has not a single Lingayat Minister. There are presently two Brahmins, a Vokkaliga and a Scheduled Caste member in the Union Cabinet.

The second is a much more significant grievance. It is the widely held perception that the BJP do not want Yedduruppa their leader but want only his votes!

The importance of Yedduruppa is that he almost single handedly built up the party and brought it to power. Though the party have leaders such as C.T. Ravi, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, R. Ashok, K.S. Eshwarappa,  Jagadish Shettar and Ananth Kumar, all lack a mass base and pan Karnataka acceptability.  

Just like the Congress, the community feels that the BJP High Command does not want  strong regional leaders and seek to undermine them. It is their "Yeddy Phobia" that forced Yedduruppa to resign after he was named in the Lokayukta Report. Even after being cleared by the High Court, Yedduruppa found the party failed to reinstall him as Chief Minister of the state. This forced Yedduruppa to leave BJP and form his own party the KJP which got one third the votes the BJP got in 2013. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP successfully wooed Yedurruppa back to the party wherein the party won 17 out of the state's 28 seats. 

What has really enraged the community is that the BJP trying to cut Yedduruppa to size by depriving his son a ticket to contest against Siddaramiah's son in Varuna constituency. If this exclusion was based "no tickets for family policy’ of the BJP it was even understandable. What enraged the community is Janardhana Reddy’s family and associates managed seven tickets.  What perhaps made the slight even worse is that Amit Shah visited Varuna constituency even when Vijayendra, Yeddurruppa's son was campaigning and said nothing. So the decision of the High Command depriving him a seat came as a rude shock.

The demeaning way BJP treated Yeddyurappa is being interpreted by the Lingayats as an insult to the entire Lingayat community whose only  Pan-Karnataka leader today is Yeddyurappa. The reaction was instantaneous. WhatsApp messages passed around amongst Lingayat voters in Varuna that they should teach BJP a lesson and vote for NOTA. From there to all other parts of the state. Angry Lingayats are asking

"Is this how you treat a leader who has worked for your party relentlessly and brought it to power? No, Amit Shah did not build BJP in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa did. But now the North Indian-dominated BJP top leadership wants to enjoy the benefits of Yeddyurappa’s sweat by calling the shots?"

A prominent Congress Lingayat Minister MB Patil had this to add:

"They have projected him, but they are dropping his son’s name on one side and the central minister (Siddeshwara) is dropped on the other side. It is just a game plan and now the Lingayats have understood. Now, I see the reaction everywhere. They have come to the conclusion that they will not make him the chief minister. They are just using him. They will dump him on the age factor. They will say he is above 75 and they have not made anybody who is above that age the chief minister. They are going to dump Yeddyurappa. Lingayats are not going to vote for BJP because of the treatment meted out to Yeddyurappa."

Meanwhile in Old Mysuru region, the BJP struck up a tacit understanding with the JDS, a party where Vokkaligas constitute the backbone of their vote base. The Vokkaligas and Lingayats are traditional caste rivals. The consolidation of Vokkaligas around the JDS is in turning propelling Lingayats to counter consolidate around the Congress. If this trend gains more momentum then regions like Hyderabad-Karnataka; Mumbai-Karnataka and Central-Karnataka the BJP can find themselves practically routed.

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