Veerashaiva and Lingayat votes appear split in Karnataka, but Lingayat strongman BSY denies it

The Karnataka Lingayat and Veerashaiva Vichara Vedike has given an open call to the community to defeat the BJP and support the Congress.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published May 09, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedMay 11, 2023 | 2:51 PM

Kanrataka Elections Veerashaiva Lingayat

In what could be one of the biggest setbacks for the BJP ahead of the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls, many Lingayat and Veerashaiva pontiffs and leaders have shown an interest in the Congress.

Lingayats are one of the more influential communities in Karnataka, with over 17 percent strength in the state.

This election is likely to witness a split in the Lingayat votes on a large scale in many Assembly seats, especially in segments where senior leaders like former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi are contesting.

Karnataka will go for elections on 10 May. The elections will be held in all 224 Assembly segments in a single phase in the state.

Senior Lingayat leader Jagadish Shettar, who is contesting on a Congress ticket from the Hubballi-Dharwad seat, accompanied by another senior Congress leader, All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha president Shamanu Shivashankrappa, held talks with Moor Savira Mutt pontiff Gurusiddha Rajayogindra Swami at Hubballi on 5 May.

Situated in Hubballi City, the Moor Savira Mutt is one of the prominent mutts that can influence voters during elections. The mutt has influence not only in the Dharwad district but also in many districts in North Karnataka.

A source told South First: “Shettar and Shamanur held talks with the pontiff of the Moor Savira Mutt and sought support for the party in the Hubballi-Dharwad Assembly seat in the 10 May Assembly elections. The pontiff is said to have agreed to support Shettar in the polls.”

However, there is no official announcement or press release from the Moor Savira Mutt.

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The divide

A week ago, Lingayat and Veerashaiva leaders held a meeting and announced their support for senior Lingayat leader Shettar in the H-D Central Assembly seat. This not only boosted the confidence of Shettar, but also his followers in the segment.

The BJP has given a ticket there to Mahesh Tenginkai, who belongs to the Lingayat Panchamasali sect.

On condition of anonymity, a Lingayat leader from the Hubballi-Dharwad Assembly seat told South First: “Lingayats have always supported the BJP in the elections. The recent developments, mainly ill-treating the senior Lingayat leaders, has not gone down well with the community.”

The leader added: “Lingayat strongman BS Yediyurappa was ousted as chief minister and other leaders, including Shettar and Savadi, were denied tickets. The community is upset with the BJP high command. We have decided to support Shettar as he is a senior leader of the community and is likely to be elected.”

It may also be noted that BJP national president JP Nadda met Pontiff Gurusiddha Rajayogindra Swami and held a closed-door meeting with him on 20 April.

He reportedly sought the support of the seer for the BJP, especially in the H-D Assembly seat, which has become prestigious for the saffron party.

Also read: K’taka transfers quota from Muslims to Lingayats, Vokkaligas

Lingayats, Veerashaivas bat for Congress

In an unexpected turn of events, the pontiffs and leaders of the Lingayat and Veerashaiva communities have announced their support to the Congress in many Assembly segments, including in Hubballi-Dharwad Central, Athani, and Gadag.

Lingayats supported the BJP in the previous elections. Despite the party’s efforts to appease the Lingayat Panchamasali sect by giving them seven percent reservation, the community pontiff Kudalasangam Panchamasali Peeta Pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami this time announced support to the Congress and the JD(S) in many seats.

In the Hubballi-Dharwad seat, Shettar is using the Lingayat factor to gain sympathy.

“The BJP’s hidden agenda is to sideline Lingayat dominance in Karnataka politics. The BJP has been systematically suppressing Lingayats and Veerashaivas for the past few years,” alleged Shettar while campaigning in his segment.

“The BJP has appointed Lingayat leader and Bidar MP Bhagwanth Khuba, Vokkaliga leader and Udupi MP Shobha Karandlage, SC leader and Chitradurga MP A Narayanswamy as Union ministers for state, but appointed Brahmin leader and Dharwad MP Pralhad Joshi as Union minister. This clearly shows how the BJP is treating Lingayats and Vokkaligas,” he fumed.

Another senior Lingayat leader, Laxman Savadi, quit the BJP, pledged allegiance to the Congress, and is contesting from the Athani Assembly seat. Lingayat leaders held meetings and announced support for Savadi in the 10 May elections.

The BJP has fielded incumbent MLA Mahesh Kumathalli, who belongs to the Lingayat Panchamasali community, from that segment.

Similarly, the Lingayats in Gadag, especially the Panchamasalis, have extended support to Congress veteran HK Patil. The BJP there has given a ticket to Anil Mensinakai, who also belongs to the Lingayat community.

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Political commentator Ashok Chandargi told South First: “Lingayats are upset with the BJP because of two factors. One is the BJP high command ousting Yediyurappa from the chief minister’s post, and another is sidelining Lingayat leaders in the party.”

He continued: “This election will witness a division among Lingayat votes as the community’s pontiffs and leaders have openly announced support to the Congress in many seats. The BJP’s strength was the community always stood with the saffron cadre. Around 60 percent of the Lingayats won’t cast their votes for the BJP.”

It may also be noted that many Lingayat leaders, including Chikkamagaluru’s HD Thammaiah and Chikkanayakanalli’s KS Kiran Kumar, who are close aides of Yediyurappa, left the BJP and managed to get a ticket from the grand old party.

Responding to Veerashaivas and Lingayats veering away from the BJP in this election, Yediyurappa told reporters in Bengaluru on Monday: “I have held a series of meetings with the pontiffs of the community. I have met over 60 pontiffs on the matter. The entire Veerashaiva and Lingayat community is with the BJP.”

He added: “The party will win with a clear majority by winning anywhere between 130 and 135 seats in Karnataka. It is a cheap political trick by the Congress to appease the community. They are the ones who tried to divide the community. The community will never support them and their efforts will go in vain.”

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Forum extends support

As mentioned before, the Karnataka Lingayat and Veerashaiva Vichara Vedike has given an open call to the people of the community to defeat the BJP and support the Congress.

The members of the forum lashed out at BJP National General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santosh for claiming the party would not need the support of Lingayats to win polls, and that it wanted to continue with the Hindutva agenda and no longer had to appease the Veerashaiva Lingayat community.

However, Karnataka’s BJP unit rubbished it as fake news.

The forum also highlighted how the BJP high command meted out ill-treatment to Lingayat leaders, from ousting Yediyurappa as the chief minister to denying tickets to Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi.

“The BJP high command is sidelining Lingayat leaders. It has also targeted community leaders by fielding V Somanna against Siddaramaiah in Varuna. He is being made a scapegoat here. The BJP also has a hidden agenda: to end the dominance of Lingayats in Karnataka politics,” the forum’s honorary president Prof Veerabhadrayya said in a statement.

“The Congress has treated Lingayats better by giving them prominent posts, including that of the chief minister. The BJP is carrying out a campaign of lies against the Congress. The community has decided to teach a lesson to the BJP.”

He continued: “The same lesson will be taught to any political party that neglects the Veerasahaivas and Lingayats. We appeal to all the people of the community to vote against the BJP in this election.”

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CM says it’s a fictional organisation

Responding to the statement of the Lingayat Forum, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said: “This forum is a fictional organisation as it does not exist at all. Veerashaiva is a very big community and it is not under any organisation.”

He continued: “A lot of respect is given to the Veerashaiva Mahasabha. But it is not correct to use any organisation for the election purpose.”

Bommai added: “If four or five people make any statement that doesn’t become the voice of the Lingayats.”

A different point of view

On the talks of the BJP giving prominence to Panchamasali and neglecting other sub-sects, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Shobha Karandlaje told South First: “The party is treating everyone equal and not appeasing or prioritising any particular sub-sect of the Veerashaivas and Lingayats.”

She added: “It is the BJP that made Jagadish Shettar the chief minister and state party president. The BJP has always given top posts, including that of the chief minister, to Veerashaivas and Lingayats. He has joined a party that ill-treated Lingayats and does only vote-bank politics.”

She continued: “After former chief minister Veerander Patil, the Congress has not projected a single Lingayat leader as the chief minister. The whole community is with the BJP and the party will win a full majority.”

It may be noted that the BJP has not denied a single ticket to a sitting MLA of the Panchamasali community.

Vijayapura City MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who was once sidelined for anti-party activities, Hubballi-Dharwad West MLA Aravind Bellad, and Nargund MLA CC Patil are being given prominence.

Chandaragi, meanwhile, noted: “Even the BJP tried to appease the community by providing them with a quota hike of two percent. The Supreme Court has put a stay on the reservation hike given to Vokkaligas and Panchamasalis, which came as four percent quota was taken away from the religious minorities. After the court’s stay, the Panchamasali community is going against the BJP in many seats in North Karnataka.”