By Aviral Virk
According to Karnataka election results trend at 10:45 am on Tuesday, 15 May, the BJP was leading in 41 of the 67 Lingayat-dominated seats, while the Congress was leading in 19 seats and the JD(S) in seven.
What This Means
1. That a sizeable Lingayat vote consolidated in favour of BS Yeddyurappa.
2. Siddaramaiah’s ‘political masterstroke’ of granting a religion status to Lingayats backfired.
It Had Been Predicted
According to the pre-poll survey conducted by JAIN and Lokniti, over 60 percent of the Lingayat community was inclined towards voting for the BJP. In comparison, only 23 percent of the state’s Lingayat population favoured the Congress.
As per the survey, three in every five Lingayats supported the idea of getting a separate religion status for their community, as proposed by Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. But barely one in every four planned on voting for the Congress.
The survey also found that the BJP’s favourability among Lingayats had risen 3 percentage points since the 2013 Assembly election when BS Yeddyurappa had split from the Bharatiya Janata Party and formed his own party. In fact, the split in the Lingayat vote between Yeddyurappa and the BJP was credited for nearly doubling the Congress’ seat share in the area in 2013.
So, What Changed?
For one, Yeddyurappa was acquitted in the mining scam and found his way back to the BJP thanks to Amit Shah and Narendra Modi’s conciliatory efforts, which included a stint in the Union Cabinet.
Second, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s strategy of granting Lingayats the status of a minority religion through a carefully worded order was seen as a divisive tactic by the community. In it, Siddaramaiah made a historical/academic distinction between Veerashaivas and Lingayats, despite the fact that on the ground the difference between the two communities has blurred over centuries and today, the term ‘Linagayat’ is used for both communities.
The Siddaramaiah government’s order read that “those Veerashaivas who follow the teachings of Basavanna will also become a part of the new religion.”
The decision was first welcomed by Shamanur Shivashankarappa, the chairman of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha (AIVM), who, incidentally, is also a Congress MLA. But a meeting with Yeddyurappa later not only had the seer retract his statement but unconfirmed reports said he had defected to the BJP.
Even then, the move was hailed as a political masterstroke by some analysts who said that the Congress had nothing to lose in the first place and that even a small shift in the Lingayat voteshare will only be an added bonus.
Except It Wasn’t
As its counter-strategy, the BJP’s worked towards making Siddaramaiah’s move to grant a religion status to the Lingayats look like a ploy to prevent a Lingayat strongman like Yeddyurappa from becoming chief minister. Sample the emotional appeal by the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate – “Vote for BJP this time. Else, you will not get a Lingayat chief minister for more than a decade.”
Then in Tiptur, BJP chief Amit Shah was quoted telling a convention of coconut growers – “The Siddaramaiah government mooted this proposal not because of its love for the Lingayats, but to prevent Yeddyurappa from becoming chief minister.”
While Karnataka’s 17 percent Lingayat population has never been known to vote en bloc, a sizeable shift towards the BJP this election has been a decisive factor towards its victory. Today’s result confirms the findings of the pre-poll survey by JAIN and Lokniti that while a religion status is a priority for Karnataka’s Lingayat community, it does not necessarily determine their electoral preference.