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Business News/ News / How are Lingayats driving Karnataka Assembly election this time?

How are Lingayats driving Karnataka Assembly election this time?

Karnatata Assembly election 2023: With Lingayat leaders, Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi, leaving the BJP, the Congress is cashing in on portraying the saffron party as 'anti-Lingayat', leaving it in a huddle. Would Lingayats still vote for the BJP or settle in the Congress fold?

Karnataka Assembly election 2023 is scheduled to be held in a single phase on 10 May: How will Lingayats vote?Premium
Karnataka Assembly election 2023 is scheduled to be held in a single phase on 10 May: How will Lingayats vote?

As the curtains rise for the Karnataka Assembly election 2023, due on 10 May, the two main contenders -- the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress -- are locked in a frenzied battle to woo the Lingayats -- a sect likely holding the key to the power in the state. To understand how the Lingayats could be driving the Karnataka Assembly election, we go back to 2018.

In 2018, the then Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had recommended minority status for the Lingayat sect – a sect that is spread out in northern Karnataka and has a distinct influence in as many as 100 of the 224 Assembly constituencies in the state. While the Congress won the 2018 Karnataka polls despite the BJP narrative that it was trying to divide the society, the Central government rejected the recommendation a few months later, saying the sect belongs to the Hindu religion and can’t form a religion of its own.

In just over a year, the Congress government was unseated from power after some Congress and JD(S) MLAs withdrew their support to HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government in Karnataka. BJP then formed the government citing a majority in the House.

Fast forward to 2023, the election has come around once again in Karnataka and the focus is back on the Lingayats. Political parties are making efforts to win the support of the influential Lingayat community, recognising its significance in securing victory in the Karnataka Assembly election 2023.

Why Lingayats are significant in this election?

While it is widely believed that the Lingayat community has been a strong supporter of the BJP in the past, the prevailing issues and sentiments within the community have also played a significant role in shaping the electoral results. In the current Karnataka Assembly, Lingayats from various parties hold 54 Assembly seats, of which, over 30 have come from the BJP. Since 1952, 10 chief ministers in the state have been elected from the sect.

But with the defection of two senior Lingayat leaders -- Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi -- from the BJP, the Congress is cashing in on portraying the saffron party as “anti-Lingayat", leaving it in a huddle. To handle the fallout, the BJP has increased its representation in its candidates’ list, fielding 55 Lingayats in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly election 2023. The BJP is also riding high on the popularity of senior Lingayat leader, BS Yediyurappa, in the sect.

With the emergence of BS Yediyurappa in the BJP, the larger part of the community's vote base shifted towards the saffron party, making Karnataka its southern citadel.

The support for Yediyurappa further strengthened when former CM HD Kumaraswamy refused to transfer power to him in October 2007, violating the terms of the then BJP-JD(S)-led coalition government. 

Also Read | 'PayCM' posters, ‘40 percent Sarkara’ jibe appear in Bengaluru ahead of Karnataka polls

With Yediyurappa at the helm of the government, the BJP has continued to enjoy the support of the Lingayats until 2011 when he was forced to resign over the illegal mining case. He formed his own party, which led to the division of the Lingayat votes. The stint was short-lived and in no time, Yedirurappa was back in the BJP.

Senior Lingayat leader Yediyurappa sidelined

In 2018, Congress formed a coalition government with the JD(S) until it crumbled after the defection of MLAs from both parties. Yediyurappa was made the chief minister again, until the BJP allegedly side-lined him on the grounds of age.

Recognising the significance of the Lingayat community's backing, the saffron party crowned Basavaraj Bommai, a fellow Lingayat, the chief minister in 2021 after the resignation of Yediyurappa.

Congress and Lingayats

The Lingayats had been a loyal support base of the Congress until 1989. However, the party's fortunes changed after former CM Veerendra Patil, a Lingayat who was recovering from a stroke in 1990, was sacked by Rajiv Gandhi.

Veerendra Patil's sacking turned the community against Congress. The party, which had scored 178 of the total 224 seats in the 1989 elections under the leadership of the Lingayat leader, could only bag 34 seats in the next election.

Now with two major Lingayat faces – Laxman Savadi and Jagadish Shettar – contesting the Karnataka Assembly election 2023 on the Congress tickets just ahead of the Karnataka Assembly election 2023, the grand old party is trying to chase the sect back into the party fold. On the other end, the BJP is also trying to maintain the support of the Lingayat community despite the defection of two senior Lingayat leaders and Yediyurappa's recent announcement to retire from electoral politics. To pull them back in, the BJP has recently announced enhancing the reservation for Lingayats by 2 per cent.

But despite Laxman Savadi and Jagadish Shettar deserting the saffron party for Congress, the BJP has refrained from announcing its chief ministerial candidate from the community. In light of this, members of the BJP have urged Yediyurappa to convince the party to name a candidate from the Lingayat community.

Also Read | Congress leader Siddaramaiah's BIG declaration ahead of Karnataka polls: ‘After this, I will quit’

To counter the Congress’ narrative to portray them as “anti-Lingayats", Yediyurrapa held a meeting with legislators from the community. Basavaraj Bommai was also present at the meeting.

Speaking with the reporters, Bommai said, “There were some suggestions [on Lingayat CM]. Dharmendra Pradhan [Karnataka election in-charge of the BJP] was also there. He [Pradhan] said he would convey our sentiments [on the need for Lingayat CM] to the high command."

“There was a consensus that if the party fails to announce a Lingayat as the chief minister candidate retaining the community’s vote would not be easy," a senior BJP leader privy to the developments said.

Karnataka Assembly Election 2023 Schedule: The Karnataka Assembly election 2023 is scheduled to be held in a single phase on 10 May. The counting of the votes polled in Karnataka Assembly election 2023 is slated for 13 May; the results are also likely to be declared on the same day.


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Updated: 27 Apr 2023, 10:49 AM IST
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