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Take A ‘Seat’: Congress Welcomes Lingayats Fleeing BJP


Karnataka Elections 2023

Laxman Savadi, former deputy chief minister of Karnataka, joined the Congress on Friday.

Upset over being denied a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket from Athani in Belgaum district, Savadi flew to Bengaluru, held a meeting with Congress leaders and joined them, vowing to defeat the saffron party.

Savadi, who lost the 2018 Assembly election to a Congress candidate may not be a big leader with a clout over a larger area. But what matters is his caste – Lingayat.

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Any Lingayat joining the Congress closer to polling day is a big boost and bonus for the party which is desperately trying to woo the community back. Following Savadi’s entry, many more Lingayat leaders from north Karnataka are expected to switch sides, claim Congress sources.

The BJP’s rise in Karnataka is directly linked to Lingayats.

THE LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP

Economically and politically the most powerful community with 16% population share, Lingayats have had a love-hate relationship with the Congress since 1972.

After the emergence of Other Backward Class (OBC) politics under then Congress CM D Devaraj Urs, the Lingayats crossed over to opposition Janata Parivar and played a major role in toppling the Gundurao-led Congress government in 1983. With their support, a Brahmin, Ramakrishna Hegde, became the CM twice. The second most powerful caste Vokkaligas were also with the Janata Parivar because of H D Deve Gowda.

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Lingayats returned to the Congress briefly in 1989, when they went to the Assembly polls under the leadership of a powerful Lingayat leader, Veerendra Patil. The Congress swept that election by winning a record 181 seats in the 224-member Assembly.

But his unceremonious sacking by Congress president Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 and back to OBC politics under Bangarappa and Veerappa Moily once again forced them to leave the Congress. Once again, the Lingayats and Vokkaligas together voted for Janata Dal, routing the Congress in 1994 Assembly elections.

BSY, BJP & COMMUNITY

After the collapse of Janata Parivar, Lingayats moved to BJP under their caste leader BS Yediyurappa and brought the BJP to power twice in the past 15 years. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is not comfortable with the Lingayat party tag, has been trying to make BJP an all-caste, Hindutva party in Karnataka since 2018. It has not gone down well with the Lingayats and a section in the party is looking at other alternatives.

The Congress which is fighting the election in an organised way is trying to get as many Lingayats as possible on board. Like Savadi, many more Lingayat leaders, who are upset with the BJP leadership for making them feel not so important, may join the Congress soon.

Two more BJP MLAs who have been denied tickets — Mahadevappa Yadavada and Chikkanagouder — are reportedly in touch with the Congress. The Congress is also trying to get former MP Prabhakara Kore back into the party fold. A BJP leader from Dharwad, Mohan Limbikayi, has already been fielded on a Congress ticket.

The Congress has kept its doors open for Lingayats who wish to return or join triggering panic in the BJP camp. “The BJP took us for granted. They are now realising that we are not their slaves” thundered Savadi, after joining the Congress.

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So far, of the 166 seats declared, the Congress has given tickets to 37 Lingayats. The BJP has fielded leaders from the community in 51 of the 212 seats declared so far.

The Lingayats joining the Congress will help the party in perception battle. Will it work electorally? One will have to wait for the answer till May 13.

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