The trends in three seats – Shikaripura, Athani, and Hubbali-Dharwad Central – where three Lingayat candidates contested sum up how Lingayats have voted in 2023 Karnataka elections. While BJP’s BY Vijayendra is leading with a margin of over 11,000 votes in Shikaripura, in Athani, Congress’ Laxman Savadi is leading with a margin of 60,000 votes, and in Hubbali-Dharwad Congress’ Jagadish Shettar is trailing by over 35,000 votes.
The Congress has won the elections, attaining the majority of over 120 seats in Karnataka.
Lingayats form 17 percent of the population in Karnataka and are a dominant voting bloc. A section of the community led by Congress leaders had pledged the community’s support for the Congress this election.
As per the India Today Axis My India exit poll, the Congress was projected to gain at least 4 percent of the Lingayat votes at the expense of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has always been enjoying the support of this powerful community.
In essence, going by counting trends till 12 noon, the Lingayat vote has not swung in favour of the Congress as the party had hoped, but it has split in pivotal seats to give victory to candidates for reasons beyond caste affiliation. In Central Karnataka and Mumbai Karnataka where the Lingayats have a say the Congress has steadily been leading by 12 out of 23 seats and 29 out of 40 seats respectively. Here’s why.
Why Fortune Favoured Laxman Savadi in Athani and What it Means
Former Deputy Chief Minister and Lingayat leader Laxman Savadi joined the Congress when he was denied a ticket by the BJP. In Athani, he contested against Mahesh Kumathalli of the BJP, a leader who is believed to have been favoured by another BJP candidate Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former Congress leader who is from the Valmiki caste which falls in the Scheduled Caste list.
A Lingayat leader told The Quint, “We specifically campaigned against Kumathalli because we wanted to cut Ramesh Jarkiholi to size.” As per Lingayat leaders who spoke to The Quint, it’s the Panchamasali Lingayats, a backward caste among the Lingayat community, which favoured Savadi over Kumathalli. Ramesh Jarkiholi who had to given up his ministerial post in 2021 after he got embroiled in an alleged sex scandal, is a sugarcane businessman whose empire is spread across Belagavi in Mumbai Karnataka. His brother Satish Jarkiholi is a Congress leader who contested in Yemkanmadri constituency, where he is leading by a comfortable margin. Ramesh Jarkiholi is leading by a reasonable margin of over 20,000 votes in Gokak constituency, thanks to the Valmiki (ST) votes which have stayed by him.
The anger against Ramesh Jarkiholi and Kumathalli is based on the general understanding among the Lingayats that the former ruled the roost when it came to winning government infrastructure contracts worth above Rs 10 lakh.
“Our decision was dependent on which candidates were fielded. The community has not left the BJP, but in seats where the opposing candidates were not of our liking for reasons other than caste, we have voted for the Congress,” a Lingayat leader said.
Why Jagadish Shettar Lost Out in Hubbali-Dharwad
This tacit understanding of voting for and against specific candidates clearly reflected in Hubbali-Dharwad Central seat where former Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar contested against Mahesh Tenginkai. Shettar was denied a ticket by the BJP and joined Congress to contest from his home seat.
Here, the Banajiga Lingayat leader, however, is trailing by over 20,000 votes against Tenginkai, who is a Panchamasali Lingayat candidate supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“Shettar would have won only if the Lingayat vote had split in his constituency. But this did not happen as the Panchamasalis supported Tengikai over caste affiliation,” a Lingayat leader said.
Shettar, who is known as one of the least controversial and corrupt leaders in the BJP, had got the displeasure of the Panchamasali Lingayats when he had earlier opposed the 2A category reservation for the community under the Backward Classes list. “We felt that Tengikai, a fresh candidate from the community could help us get 2A reservation,” a Panchamasali Lingayat leader candidly revealed.
Meaning, in closely contested seats, the Lingayats stood by leaders of the Congress who were likely help their varied ends. But in pivotal seats, like Shikaripura, in Central Karnataka the community stood clearly by the BJP’s old brigade.
Why BY Vijayendra Is Leading in Shikaripura
The BJP’s rise in Karnataka is largely credited to the coastal belt where the RSS is strong. However, Central Karnataka is where the saffron party’s caste engineering, led by senior Lingayat leader BS Yediyurappa, had worked well in the past. Starting from Shivamogga, Yediyurappa whipped the Lingayat votes for the party since early 2000s and got the community to rally behind the saffron party.
The community has stood by Yediyurappa, who did not contest this election after having lost the Chief Minister post to Basavaraj Bommai in 2021. His son BY Vijayendra, however, contested from Shikaripura and is currently leading by a margin of 20,000 votes, a figure incomparable with Yediyurappa's margin of over 35,000 votes in 2018 elections.
“Here, some sections of the Lingayats have voted for the Independent candidate SP Nagaraj Gouda, who is a Sadar Lingayat. Also, the votes of the Banjara (‘Touchable Dalits) have gone to this candidate,” a Lingayat leader said.
The ‘Touchable’ Dalits, voted against the BJP this election as they were unhappy with the implementation of sub-caste reservation within the Scheduled Castes list. Nagaraj Gouda is a Congress-rebel candidate.
“In Shikaripura, the Lingayat Sabha has given a strong message to the BJP that they will stand by even the older rungs of leaders only if the party holds up their bargain of protecting the community and its leaders,” said a Lingayat leader. In Shiggao, where former Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai contested, this hesitation from Lingayats was visible even as the veteran leader is leading by over 30,000 votes as against Pathan Yasir Ahmed Khan of the Congress.
In essence, the Lingayats, even as they stood by the BJP, has made it clear that their support is not unconditional and the saffron party has to do better.