With eye on Karnataka elections, Amit Shah to meet religious leaders
Bengaluru: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah will arrive in Karnataka on 12 August for three days during which he is scheduled to meet religious leaders, state functionaries, legislators, members of Parliament, and leaders of scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward classes (OBCs), among others.
With the state headed for elections next year, analysts said Karnataka can become the entry point for the BJP in the south, where it has little or no representation at all. And the party it seems is looking to making inroads into the two dominant communities in the state—the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas.
While the party is already seen close to the Lingayats, it fears it may have upset the Vokkaligas with the income tax (I-T) raids on state energy minister D.K. Shivakumar.
The Lingayats—believed to account for around 17% of the state’s population—are closer to the BJP as its chief ministerial candidate B.S.Yeddyurappa is from the community. As chief minister from 2009-11, Yeddyurappa had generously granted state funds to various Mutts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in May reached out to Shivakumar Swamiji, head of the Siddaganga Mutt and a spiritual leader for Lingayats.
Shah, during his three-day trip, will visit the Adichunchanagiri Mutt, a spiritual place for the dominant Vokkaliga community, in Mandya district, and will also meet Sri Sri Ravishankar from the Art of Living Foundation. His visit to the Mutt is being seen as a move to contain the possible damage from I-T raids on Shivakumar, who belongs to the Vokkaliga community, said analysts.
However, Suresh Kumar, BJP leader and former state law minister, on Monday said that Adichunchanagiri Mutt had organized the event with Shah on its own.
“Even though the BJP may not have hurt Shivakumar, the raids did not go well with the Vokkaligas. This is an attempt to soothe the whole issue,” said Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnataka University, Dharwad.
Shivakumar, an influential politician and Vokkaliga leader, was questioned for three straight days at his house in Bengaluru by I-T department officials. The allegation that the BJP (at the centre) had unleashed investigating agencies on a Vokkaliga leader—notwithstanding corruption allegations—had threatened to derail any effort to reach out to a community believed to account for around 14% of the state’s population.
By meeting spiritual leaders of the Vokkaliga community, the BJP is trying to consolidate its votes that have been scattered across the BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), among others.
The BJP, through its outreach programme over the past one year, is trying to get the support of the Vokkaliga community by opposing the leaked findings of the caste census, which chief minister Siddaramaiah continues to withhold for a more opportune time.
The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka had conducted a caste census in the state in 2015 in a bid to override the popular narrative that the Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the two most dominant communities in the state. Even though the government has denied the authenticity of the leaked findings, leaders from both the communities have gone up in arms against Siddaramaiah, a factor which the BJP and others tried to use to their own advantage.
Siddaramaiah’s open declaration of being pro-Ahinda (an acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) had threatened to take one of the largest chunks of votes away from the BJP, which is hoping to repeat the success of Uttar Pradesh.
Ramaswamy said by being seen with religious leaders, the BJP is trying to repeat the strategy it deployed in Uttar Pradesh.