Why Karnataka Politicians Love Lingayats Come Elections

By Sandhya Ravishankar

“Lingayat” is the word being chanted by almost every politician in Karnataka, cutting across party lines. 

That the community comes into micro focus ahead of elections is well known. 

The Congress party, especially, is on overdrive, attempting to woo Lingayats. From former Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with Lingayat seer Murugha Sharanaru and the blessing of an Ishtalinga, to former Karnataka minister MB Patil visiting all the Lingayat mathas big and small, the effort to woo the community this year has been relentless. 

The BJP too has not left anything to the imagination. Led by former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, the rank and file of the party leadership, from Prime Minister Modi to Home Minister Amit Shah to party national president JP Nadda, have all paid their respects to various Swamijis.

The reason is pure arithmetic. Let us look at the number of seats in which the Lingayat voter has more than 30% of the votes and compare it to seats where they have 20-30% of the votes and those that have 10-20%.

That’s a total of 133 seats where the Lingayat community can swing the winning vote. 

Karnataka’s largest population is the Scheduled Castes, comprising 19% of the state’s population. Lingayats comprise about 17% of the population. 

However, while Scheduled Castes do dominate as voters in 191 seats, they are a disparate group compared to the Lingayats who tend to consolidate. 

And the community has been that way since the 1990s when a Lingayat chief minister from the Congress party, Veerendra Patil, was unceremoniously dismissed by Rajiv Gandhi, even as he lay ailing in bed. The community turned their loyalty to the BJP and Yediyurappa was quick to harness that emotion, eventually propelling the BJP to victory on the back of Lingayat votes.  And hence, the unending overtures to the Lingayats. 

MB Patil, a Lingayat himself, recently attempted to drive a wedge between the community and Brahmins. 

The Congress has been exulting over the rebellion of Lingayat leaders Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi in Hubballi-Dharwad and Athani respectively. 

The BJP entrusted the task of damage control to BS Yediyurappa, still viewed as the tallest leader of the Lingayats. 

Now the BJP has picked up another issue relating to the Lingayats – a video of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah making an off the cuff remark about chief minister Basavaraj Bommai. 

But the reality on ground is that, no matter what any party does, the voter’s mind is largely made up on whom to vote for. And unless a politician commits political harakiri, these issues are not likely to sway the Lingayat voter.