From the election results, it was clear that the Lingayat votes did not swing in favor of Congress as the party had anticipated.
About three months ago, on March 20 the Congress government in Karnataka finally decided to grant a separate religion status to Lingayat- an electorally and socially powerful community in the state. The decision was taken after a marathon meeting between the state government and influential Lingayat Seers. Back then the decision was hailed as a master-stroke by Congress ahead of the high stake Assembly Election. The issue did rattle BJP enough, however, it could not be transferred into votes. Congress which was hoping to cash on Lingayat votes after granting religious minority status, fell flat on face as it was reduced to only 78 seats from 122 seats.
From the election results, it was clear that the Lingayat votes did not swing in favor of Congress as the party had anticipated. On the other hand, the issue backfired the party with Congress losing in several Lingayat strongholds. Now that the Congress-JD(S) government has been formed in Karnataka, where does the Lingayat issue stand? But let us first assess the aftermath of the decision:
Lingayats rejected Congress:
While many people had called the separate religion status to Lingayat, a Master-stroke, few Congressmen had cautioned that the former CM Siddaramaiah might be playing with fire. The latter anticipation was proved right when the Lingayat “Trump Card” eventually trumped the Congress.
Congress had hoped to add more seats to its tally from the Lingayat-dominated regions of Bombay-Karnataka and Central Karnataka. However, the party faced a defeat in this region. In Bombay Karnataka, the Congress won 17 seats, down from its tally of 31 whereas BJP won 30 seats, up from the 13 it had won in 2013.
In Central Karnataka Congress’ tally dropped from 19 to 13 whereas the BJP’s tally went up to 15 from 12. In Hyderabad-Karnataka, the party barely managed to retain the lead after a close contest with BJP on most of the seats.
Lingayat issue thrown under the carpet?
The Congress’ campaigning ahead of Karnataka Assembly Election centered around the Lingayat issue. So much so, that Congress even made Lingayatism founder Basavanna’s statement “Nudidante Nade” (Walk the Talk) their campaign one-liner. Rahul Gandhi in his every address mentioned Basavanna’s teachings without any fail. Now, it has been almost three weeks since the Congress-JD(S) government took charge. However, there has been no mention of what will be the new government’s course of action regarding Lingayat issue. It is important to ask whether it is deliberately keeping away from addressing the same, now that the party has felt the heat? Where does JD(S) stand in this row? And what should the Lingayat Separate Religion supporter expect from the new government?
Did the loss affect Cabinet selection?
The initial camaraderie between Congress-JD(S) and the euphoria over victory in Karnataka has died down. Three weeks after the swearing-in of HD Kumaraswamy, the parties are faced with the ground reality as the discontent brews among party men. The party seems embroiled in internal strifes over the selection of the cabinet.
On Wednesday, the cabinet was expanded to induct 15 legislators from Congress who were scheduled to take an oath the same day. While few senior Congressmen like D.K.Shivakumar, R.V.Deshpande, Shamanuru Shivashankarppa, K.J.George, Krishna Byre Gowda made it to the cut, most of the ministers from the previous Siddarmaiah government like MB Patil, Satish Jarkiholi have been omitted. The rebellion against the cabinet selection has grown to an extent that these excluded leaders even staged a protest outside the party office in Bengaluru two days ago.
While the party has clarified that the names are selected on the basis of high command’s direction of introducing new faces, the speculations state the contrary. MB Patil who hails from Babaleshwar and is considered the second-most influential Lingayat leader after BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa was at the forefront of the Linagayat separate religion movement. Having worked for the same in the background, Patil took charge of the matter when Congress party decided to back the demand. Reportedly, his persistent effort also led to the Rashtriya Basava Dal campaigning for the Congress.
On the other hand, JD(S) prominent leader Basavraj Horatti has also been excluded from the ministerial berth. He is serving a record seventh consecutive term as MLC representing Karnataka West Teachers’ constituency. Along with MB Patil, he was also at the actively campaigning in favor of the demands of Lingayat community. He had even called out for a public debate with Dingaleshwar Swamiji of Balehonnur Peetha of Gadag district.
Were MB Patil and Basavraj Horatti deliberately kept away from the ministries despite having strong clout? Not only those who supported the Lingayat demand but also those who protested against it (like Eshwara Khandre) have been kept away from the ministerial positions. This indicates that the Congress party no longer wants to associate itself with the Lingayat demand. While it may not abandon the community completely as it may again cost them their numbers, for the time being, it is tight-lipped about the issue.
While the Karnataka Congress is on the verge of a crisis, the future of state-backed Lingayat separate religion demand seems ambiguous.
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