Karnataka elections: For Congress, the Lingayat issue now a double-edged sword2 min read . Updated: 27 Mar 2018, 11:13 PM IST
Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah's strategy to split the BJP support base, the Lingayat vote bank, is facing opposition from within the Congress
Bengaluru: The issue of granting separate religion status to the Lingayat community, a strategy that the Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka government thought will help split the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) main support base ahead of the upcoming assembly elections, has turned into a double-edged sword for his party.
The government continues to defer any decision on the demand for a separate religion status by the Lingayats, believed to be the single-largest community in the state. On Wednesday too, the government deferred the state cabinet meeting, which was expected to take up the contentious issue.
The Siddaramaiah government first constituted an expert committee in December last year to examine the demand by the Lingayats.
The Lingayats’ demand for separate religion status and separation from the Veerashaivas, a sub-sect within the community, is at least a century old, but has gained momentum in the last four decades with agitations and protests. The latest round is led by Karnataka water resources minister M.B. Patil, who is trying to replace the “old guard" with a new one.
The demand has met with fierce resistance by BJP state president B.S.Yeddyurappa, one of the tallest leaders of the Lingayat community.
The Congress is trying to retain power in Karnataka, one of the last few states it still controls, as it holds the key to a national revival of party before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“Initially (after constituting the committee), they (Congress) were very happy to have scored over BJP in the Veerashaiva-Lingayat issue. What they did not expect was the divide within its own ranks due to the whole idea," said Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor of political science at Karnatak University, Dharwad.
Members of the state cabinet clashed at the last meet on 8 March, when the issue was first taken up for discussion. T.B. Jayachandra, the state’s law and parliamentary affairs minister, said the cabinet had a “detailed discussion" over a report on Lingayats prepared by the committee, even though he admitted that there were only a few copies which not everyone was able to read.
Senior BJP leaders said the Congress government has been using the Lingayat issue, 2015 caste census and separate flag issue as “diversionary tactics" before the polls.
Ramaswamy said Lingayat leaders within the Congress, some of whom are opposed to the report, will have to convince the ordinary practising Lingayat in their respective constituencies. Once the state cabinet approves the report, it will be sent to the centre for consideration—a move expected to corner the BJP, which is in power at the centre, said analysts.
Ramaswamy said the report backfired on various fronts.
He said the composition of the committee itself was wrong as it had no experts on the subject, and had no clarity on the methodology. “If all followers of Basavanna (12th century social reformer) are considered Lingayats, then they could have framed it in one line," he said. Basavanna propagated a casteless and egalitarian society, and the followers of this line of thinking were called Lingayats.
“Lingayat has an ideology of the left wing but are controlled by the right," said Narendar Pani, political analyst and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). He said that once it got incorporated with the Veerashaiva, right-wing parties gradually took control.
Pani said the Congress is likely to take the report forward as it will lead to a split in the BJP’s support base, even if it means losing just a few seats in Davangere district.