Karnataka: The BJP's rebel trouble, and why a Lingayat mahaswami is upset

With a Congress government at the helm and the infighting in its own ranks, can the BJP repeat its 2019 Lok Sabha polls performance?

Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah on the campaign trail (photo: @siddaramaiah/X
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah on the campaign trail (photo: @siddaramaiah/X

Naheed Ataulla

In Karnataka, can the BJP repeat its 2019 performance to retain 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats it won? That’s what it needs; but with a Congress government in the saddle in the state and the infighting in its own ranks, that appears to be a tall order.

The Congress, in comparison, looks more cohesive, exuding confidence that it will be able to wrest at least 15 seats, if not more. Its confidence was borne out by a pre-poll survey from Kannada digital platform Eedina.com conducted between 15 February and 5 March, which predicted 17 seats for the Congress and 11 for the NDA, based on a sample size of 52,678 respondents. Eedina.com had correctly predicted a big win for the Congress in its pre-poll survey for the 2023 Assembly elections.

In contrast, another pre-poll survey, this one by News18, predicted that the BJP will again win 25 seats and the Congress just three. Meanwhile, Karnataka minister Priyank Kharge has claimed that an internal survey conducted by the RSS found the BJP bagging less than 200 seats across the country and only eight in the state.

The Congress reposes its confidence in its five guarantees promised before the Assembly election as well, with women the primary beneficiaries of three. Free rides for women in state-run buses, Rs 2,000 per month to female heads of poor families, and free electricity up to 200 units, allowing women to save a little more, will have consolidated support among half the electorate, the party hopes.

The Axis My India exit poll for last year’s Assembly elections had shown the Congress to secure 11 per cent more women’s votes than the BJP.


Part of the Fakkireshwar mutt (source: Facebook)
Part of the Fakkireshwar mutt (source: Facebook)

The Muslim-friendly mutt

The BJP, which has traditionally enjoyed the blessings of the state's dominant Lingayat community, is confronted with a challenge this time thanks to the Fakkireshwar mutt's Jagadguru Fakira Dingaleshwar Mahaswami's surprise announcement this week: he will be contesting as an independent candidate against Union minister Prahlad Joshi.

Joshi has humiliated the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community and misused the Lingayat mutts to stay in power, the swami alleged. The development followed a meeting of 40 Lingayat seers which had urged the BJP central leadership to not renominate Joshi from Dharwad. “Joshi’s love for the Lingayat community surfaces only during the polls,” they claimed.

A deeper grievance is that though nine Veerashaiva-Lingayat MPs were elected on BJP tickets in the 2019 parliamentary polls, not one of them was included in the Union cabinet.

Another small matter: the Fakkireshwara mutt follows several Muslim traditions. When the presiding pontiff dies, for instance, his funeral rites are first performed according to Islamic customs, with the Hindu ceremonies following later. When a new pontiff is consecrated, a descendant of prominent Sufi saint Khwaja Ameenuddin is invited to witness it.

Finally, to add to the Karnataka BJP’s discomfiture, former deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader K.S. Eshwarappa has alleged he was summoned to New Delhi by Union home minister Amit Shah, but after being kept waiting, was sent away without meeting the minister.

Eshwarappa has now decided to contest as an Independent against former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s son B.Y. Raghavendra, filing his nomination from Shivamogga for the 7 May Lok Sabha polls.


D.K. Shivakumar at Kurudumale Ganesha Temple in 2023
D.K. Shivakumar at Kurudumale Ganesha Temple in 2023

The hallowed home of every party’s campaign

The Kurudumale Vinayaka (Ganesh) temple in Mulbagal taluk (administrative district) of Kolar district, 95 km from Bengaluru, is considered auspicious by all political parties. Everyone starts their electioneering after a pooja here.

On 9 September 2023, former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced he would start touring Karnataka to expose the purported misrule of the Congress government, after performing a pooja here to ensure the BJP retained its 25 Lok Sabha seats.

On 1 November 2022, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda performed a pooja here before flagging off the Janata Dal (Secular) Pancharatna Ratha Yatra (a procession featuring five leaders) in a bid to win 123 Assembly seats. 

On 6 April this year, chief minister Siddaramaiah and deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar were seen making their obeisance before launching their poll campaign in Kolar, which has been a challenging seat for the Congress.

The temple, located 10 km from Mulabagal town, has a 13.5-foot Ganesh idol and is chiselled out of a monolithic shaligrama sheela (a rock including fossilised ammonite). The temple was built by Raja Krishnadevaraya, who ruled over the Vijayanagar empire. Many people pray to Ganesh, the lord of auspicious inceptions, here before starting a new venture.


The Cauvery belt girds up

The poll bugle for Karnataka will first sound from the Cauvery basin, also the hotbed of Vokkaliga politics. This ‘forward’ community claims to account for 14 per cent of the state’s 6.77 crore population, per the Aadhaar statistics of 31 May 2023.

The Lok Sabha elections for the 28 seats in the state will be held in two phases, on 26 April and 7 May. In the first phase, 14 constituencies in south Karnataka — including two in the coastal region — will go to the polls. On 7 May, it will be the turn of the Kalyan Karnataka (north) region, where the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, which accounts for the highest population in the state, is dominant.

The pattern seen in earlier elections, both Assembly and Lok Sabha, is that the BJP’s electoral gains have been in Kalyan Karnataka, while the Congress and JDS have been traditional opponents and winners in the Old Mysuru area, aka south.


Reined in

The BJP high command has directed Mysuru-Kodagu MP Pratap Simha as well as the former BJP MLA from Hassan, Preetam J. Gowda, not to campaign in their respective constituencies.

Both were aspirants for Lok Sabha tickets, but the BJP central leadership decided to field former Mysuru royal family ‘scion’ Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar from Mysuru–Kodagu, while the Hassan ticket has gone to the JDS in the seat-sharing agreement.

Simha, whose name came up in connection with the Parliament security breach incident in December 2023, has been seen occasionally campaigning in Kodagu and Gowda in Mysuru and Chamarajanagar, however.

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