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Jagadish Shettar's Exit: Is BJP Not Keen on Keeping Lingayat Leaders Happy?

Why did Jagadish Shettar quit BJP? What will be its impact on the saffron party in the upcoming polls? We answer.

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“Fed up” with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), former Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar quit the saffron party on Sunday, 16 April, and resigned as MLA, after being denied a ticket for the 10 May Assembly elections.

A day later, Shettar, responsible for growing the BJP in Uttara Kannada, joined the Congress in presence of the party's national president Mallikarjun Kharge and other senior leaders. This was followed by Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar giving Shettar the 'B' form, to file his nomination from the Hubbali-Dharwad Central constituency.

Shettar was the second tall Lingayat to resign and join the Congress in recent days after Laxman Savadi. Why did this happen? What will be its impact on the BJP in the upcoming polls? We answer.

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Are Lingayat Leaders Being Sidelined?

Speaking to The Quint, political theorist and professor of political science at the University of Mysore, Muzaffar Assadi, said that there is "a power-struggle within the BJP" because of which Shettar could not get a ticket.

Stating that BJP is known to have several Baniya and Brahmin leaders, Assadi pointed out two factors as to why Shettar was denied a ticket:

"This (Shettar being forced to leave) might send a very wrong signal to the Lingayat community. Two leaders (Laxman Savadi - who also resigned to join the Congress) were very unceremoniously forced to leave and were made to crawl in front of the high command. The Lingayats are facing the humiliation."

Political analyst A Narayana from Azim Premji University too said that there is an attempt to sideline Lingayat leaders.

He told The Quint that whatever Shettar might be credited with – he has not acquired that stature of a mass leader. So, this crossover has two symbolic messages:

  1. The BJP is not treating future Lingayat leaders too well – those who will step in to fill BS Yediyurappa’s shoes. It could have been (Laxman) Savadi, it could have been Shettar. This means that BJP has some plan which is not to promote or encourage the Lingayat leaders.

  2. All is not well within the BJP – confusion is reigning supreme in the party.

Lingayats have traditionally been supporting the BJP since the late 1990s. As to why the BJP is "not treating" its Lingayat leaders properly, Narayana said:

"The BJP is certainly fed up of relying on Lingayat support through a leader- which so far happens to be through BSY. They want to break that kind of mediation between the party and the community. The second possibility could be what HD Kumaraswamy has been saying - that this is to maintain Brahmin supremacy over Lingayats."

How Will This Impact the BJP?

Terming the crossover of Shettar as a "setback" for the BJP, political analyst and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Jain University, Sandeep Shastri, told The Quint, "It is something the BJP might not have anticipated."

In terms of the impact on BJP, Shastri said that the development has implications on two levels:

  1. When somebody who was the face of the party for many years, leaves the party, optically, as a ruling party, they (BJP) seems to be going to elections with a former CM and deputy CM leaving their party.

  2. The BJP has always believed that for them party discipline is most important. They tried this experiment (of discipline) and there is a clear backlash.

Meanwhile, Prof Assadi, said, "This will have an impact on a minimum 20 constituencies. Earlier, 80 seats were predicted (as per the CVoter opinion poll) for them, but now it might even come down to 60 seats."

Notably, BS Yediyurappa, a Lingayat strongman with a massive following in the state, had recently announced his retirement from electoral politics. However, he stated that he will continue to support and campaign for the saffron party.

Meanwhile, his son, BY Vijayendra, has finally gotten a BJP ticket to contest in the Assembly elections. While the BJP hopes that BSY's support may be enough for the party to get Lingayat votes, political analysts are skeptical.

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The Modi Factor

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already made several visits to the poll-bound state and is scheduled to visit Udupi on 4 May along with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.

Shastri told The Quint, "I don’t rule out the possibility that the BJP can offset these developments, because their election machine is ever ready." The BJP has seemingly reduced its overt reliance on "double-engine sarkar."

He added:

"They (BJP) can take their campaign forward with the leadership of PM Narendra Modi and the central government. But they can't take the same approach with the double-engine government since it is rather one engine leading the other engine - since they are hardly talking about the achievements of the state government."

While BJP tries to damage control the situation, Shettar has gotten the Congress ticket for Dharwad Central.

Analyst Narayana however believes that Shettar will face his own struggle. "Since he is not a mass leader, he might have to struggle to win even in his own constituency – which is a hardcore Hindutva constituency like Udupi or Mangalore," he added.

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