Lingayats Adamant on Karnataka CM Post, Predict Doom for BJP if Not Heeded
BS Yediyurappa was a Banajiga Lingayat and a strongman of the community. Can a non-Lingayat fill his shoes?
To reporters huddled before his Balehosur mutt, Lingayat seer Dingaleshwar predicted doom for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka. “Yediyurappa’s tears will wash away BJP in Karnataka,” he said, after Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa resigned from his post on 26 July.
As the seer accused the BJP of “blackmailing” Yediyurappa into submission, what became apparent was that the Lingayat mutts will not take the resignation of the CM lightly. Though angered by Yediyurappa's resignation, the seers are now promoting BJP leaders from their community for the CM's chair.
The Lingayats will not accept a non-Lingayat CM, seers who spoke to The Quint admitted.
Lingayats, a dominant caste group of Karnataka that forms close to 17 percent of the population, have been supporters of the BJP for since the 1990s.
While the BJP will hold a Legislative Party meeting at 7 pm on Tuesday, it remains to be seen whether the party will bank on another Lingayat to step into Yediyurappa’s shoes. Currently, the speculation is that the party will go for a non-Lingayat chief minister and get two Lingayat deputy chief ministers to balance the caste equation.
Will this caste engineering work or will the BJP, which made its inroads into South India through Karnataka, be consumed by the caste crisis? According to Lingayat seers of different mutts in Karnataka who spoke to The Quint, Lingayat rage may pose a challenge to the BJP in the Legislative Assembly elections of 2023, if the party does not appoint a CM from the same caste group.
Panchamasali Seer Warns of Severe Consequences
Basavajaya Mrutyunjaya Swami of Koodalasangama Panchamasali Mahapeeta mutt has been a vocal critic of BS Yediyurappa. The seer even took out a huge rally in February this year demanding 2A category reservation status for Panchamasalis, a sub-caste among Lingayats.
Panchamasalis form around 80 percent of the Lingayat population. Even though they are the dominant community based on population, the Panchamasalis have been economically backward. Karnataka has never had a Panchamasali chief minister. Most of the Lingayat chief ministers including Yediyurappa were of the Banajiga sub-caste.
This, however, has not prevented seer Mrutyunjaya from rooting for a Lingayat CM, preferably of the Panchamasali sub-caste.
He told The Quint, “In a resolution passed by the state level meeting of Panchamasali Lingayats on 24 July, it was decided that we will recommend three names for the post of chief minister from our community. If the BJP selects a non-Lingayat chief minister, the party will face problems in 2023 Assembly elections”.
Warning the party of dire consequences, the seer said, "We have also asked for a deputy CM from our community".
The Panchamasalis have recommended MLAs Arvind Bellad and Basanagouda Patil Yatnal for the post of the chief minister, even as Minister for Mines of Geology Murugesh Nirani was a reluctant choice. “Yatnal and Bellad have been supporting the community throughout our demand for 2A reservations. But Nirani was against it at first. However, we have recommended all three names to the BJP high command,” the seer confirmed.
The state government’s 2A reservation category consists of 102 communities who are mostly landless artisans. Panchamasalis currently fall in the 3A and 3B categories of landowning agricultural communities.
The names of Bellad and Nirani are being currently considered for the post, sources in the BJP confirmed. Sources said that the Panchamasalis have not just demanded a CM from their community but have also insisted on a CM from north-Karnataka.
Unhappy With Resignation, Angry With BJP
While the Panchamasalis are looking for an apt replacement for Yediyuappa, Sivakumara Swamy of Siddaganga mutt, Tumkur, is upset that the chief minister was “made to resign”. “It will be a loss for the BJP that Yediyurappa was asked to resign,” he told The Quint indicating, the future of the saffron party is in doldrums. In 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the Tumkur mutt, which caters to Banajigas.
Meanwhile, Chitradurga seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru who has not yet commented on the resignation of the chief minister said that the community has not taken any resolution around the chief ministerial post.
However, a Lingayat CM will be preferred, the seer's official spokesperson said.
The seers' dedication to Yediyurappa is indicative of the favours he had extended to them as the chief minister. Unlike most chief ministers, Yediyurappa had given vast subsidies for institutions run by the mutts. His resignation would affect not just the emotional connection with the Lingayat CM, but also have a direct influence on their coffers.
This means that the seers who influence the voting preferences of the Lingayat community have not been entirely happy with the recent political developments in Karnataka.
Will the Lingayat Vote Shift to JD(S), Congress?
While caste differences between Banajigas, Panchamasalis, and others are of importance, the infighting will last only till a non-Lingayat is selected.
As the BJP's list of prospective CMs includes Brahmins – Pralhad Joshi and BL Santhosh – the Lingayat anger is expected to rage further. Lingayats, some of whom claim to be different from Hindus, consider Brahmins their caste rivals. Meanwhile, Vokkaligas, the second most prominent dominant community in Karnataka, are not trusted by them either. CT Ravi, a CM contender, is from this list.
Will Lingayats who had supported the Congress till the 1980s go back to the party? The community's patronage was with Congress Chief Minister S Nijalingappa.
"While they had voted for the Congress, the community mostly identified with the Janata Parivar. If the BJP elects a non-Lingayat chief minister, at least half the party's votes from the community will go towards JD(S) or Congress," a spokesperson of a Lingayat mutt explained.
Will the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), which are in the Opposition currently, be able to live up to the challenge and draw in the Lingayat votes? "Before the tides turn, Lingayats should soon be given prominence in the Congress," the spokesperson said.
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