Karnataka: Congress counts dividends after 2 key Lingayat leaders join it

Several Congress leaders in the last couple of days have been trying to push this narrative, while also seeking to portray that the wave is in their favour, a party functionary said.

Bengaluru: As the Congress counts political dividends after two BJP leaders from the dominant Lingayat community joined it, ahead of May 10 Assembly polls in Karnataka, the ruling party has sought to down play the desertion and project their move as mere “betrayal”.

Lingayats, who constitute about 17 per cent of the state’s population largely concentrated in the State’s northern districts, form the strong vote base of the BJP.

The Congress has been making attempts to break the Lingayat vote bank of the BJP for sometime now, by trying to project that the party has ill-treated the community by sidelining its veteran leader and Lingayat strong man B S Yediyurappa, after using him for its advantage.

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Now with senior leaders Jagadish Shettar (former CM) and Laxman Savadi (former Deputy CM) switching to its side, the Congress is planning to push this narrative further, hoping to create a perception against BJP in the minds of Lingayats.

Several Congress leaders in the last couple of days have been trying to push this narrative, while also seeking to portray that the wave is in their favour, a party functionary said.

State Congress President D K Shivakumar even claimed that 2-3 percent of Veershaiva-Lingayat votes are shifting in his party’s favour after Shettar and Savadi joined it, and have given an open invitation to their supporters in the BJP to join the party.

“Our estimation is we would win 141 seats, after Jagadish Shettar and Savadi joining the party we will reach 150 seats (out of total 224). Because of their joining, 2-3 percent of Veershaiva-Lingayat votes is shifting, because their supporters and well-wishers are shifting to Congress,” Shivakumar told reporters here today.

“I’m giving an open invitation to Shettar and Savadi’s supporters in BJP to join Congress,” he added.

Foreseeing that the Congress will use this opportunity to build a narrative that BJP is ill-treating Lingayat leaders, the saffron party on the very day Shettar resigned as MLA , fielded Yediyurapa, arguably the tallest and a mass leader from the community, to defend it.

Yediyurappa had termed Shettar and Savadi as “betrayers”, and listed out all key positions they were given by the BJP.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, a Lingayat himself on Tuesday in Bagalkote said, one or two Lingayat leaders from BJP defecting to other parties, ahead of elections, will have no impact, and expressed confidence that the BJP will win more seats than last time in this region, where leaders have quit.

“In Karnataka politics, Lingayats are ‘aware’ voters, whenever they have taken a decision they have taken a right decision. The Congress is showing too much love towards Lingayats after the election is declared. Congress were the ones who tried to divide Lingayats,” Bommai said.

He accused the Congress of indirectly opposing and obstructing reservation related decisions favouring Lingayats. “They have always opposed the development of the community. There used to be Jalebi files during Siddaramaiah’s (Congress) tenure.”

‘Jalebi files’ are pertaining to Gowdas, Lingayats and Brahmins, while Non-jalebi files refer to others. The BJP leaders used to accuse the then Siddaramaiah-led Congress government of clearing only non-jalebi files.

Claiming that the Congress could not give water to farmers of north Karnataka, who were mostly Lingayats, by not implementing the Upper Krishna project for decades, Bommai said, the BJP gave representation to the community politically, socially, economically and administratively.

“After 1967, other than 9 months in 1989 for Veerendra Patil (former CM), it has been 50 years, Congress has not been able to make a Lingayat the Chief Minister. They ill-treated Veerendra Patil. When he was unwell and on his bed, he was removed from the CM post by the Congress leadership from the airport. What morality they have? there is a long history of how that party has ill treated Lingayat leaders,” he said.

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