Why Shettar, Savadi joining Congress may uproot BJP from Karnataka

Voters of Veerashaiva and Lingayat communities will swing in favor of Congress, say analysts

Jagadish Shettar with Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge
Jagadish Shettar with Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge

NH Political Bureau

The Congress has managed to deliver a shock to the saffron party and a challenge on its turf in north Karnataka with former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and former Deputy CM Laxman Savadi joining it.

The aggressive campaigning by the Congress in this direction had forced the BJP Lingayat leaders to call a meeting and force the high command to declare that if the BJP comes to power, the CM's post would be given to the Lingayat community.

The Congress had already jolted the BJP as many BJP MLCs joined the party. The BJP opened its eyes only after Shettar and Savadi challenged the high command and walked out of the party.

Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar has stated that with Jagadish Shettar and Lakshman Savadi joining, his party would win 150 seats in the upcoming assembly elections.

Karnataka watchers predicted that with this development, the voters of Veerashaiva and Lingayat communities will support the Congress. "Our survey projected 141 seats. Now, with the joining of Shettar and Savadi, we will reach 150," claimed Shivakumar.

After the arrival of these two leaders, the vote share of the Congress in the Lingayat community has increased by two to three percent. "I am giving an open invitation to all BJP leaders who agree with the ideology of the Congress party to join us. Let us join hands and together save Karnataka. Let us bring change," he said.

Seizing the opportunity, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wasted no time in charging that the RSS and the BJP are attacking the philosophy of Basavanna, the 12th century social reformer revered by the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.

The RSS and the BJP are attacking democracy in the whole country. Basavanna thought of equal participation, equal representation and collective growth. These thoughts are being attacked by the BJP and the RSS, Gandhi stated.

They are spreading hatred and violence in the country. The BJP's ideology is different from Basavanna's ideology, he said.

The statements assumed importance ahead of the elections as they were issued with the clear objective of drawing the Lingayat vote bank away from the BJP.

Sources said that the important thing to note is that the Congress is attempting to put balm on the old wounds of the Lingayat community.

The Lingayats had abandoned the Congress after late CM Veerendra Patil's unceremonious ouster in 1990.

Under the leadership of Patil, a Lingayat strongman, the Congress had won 178 seats out of 224 in 1989, which is the biggest victory of the party till date. Ever since the exit of Veerendra Patil, the Lingayat vote bank has drifted away from the Congress.

The grand old party is seeing the development as a golden opportunity to attract the Lingayat votes by accommodating senior Lingayat leaders from north Karnataka region.

BJP insiders said that with former CM Yediyurappa retiring from electoral politics, the saffron party will face an uphill task to keep the Lingayat vote bank intact, from which it derives its core strength, ahead of the assembly polls.

The BJP party which was upbeat about its chances after the release of the first and second list of candidates is in shock with the unfolding of events. BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi, reacting to Shettar's exit, stated that though it is a temporary setback for the party, they will face it.

Waking up to the Congress party's claims of the Lingayat leadership being finished off, the Karnataka BJP has stated that the Congress has only cheated them. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that the Congress showers special love on Lingayats only during elections.

The Lingayat voters in Karnataka are vigilant and they have always taken the right decision. The Congress has shown special love for them after the Assembly elections were announced. It was the same party that tried to divide the Lingayats and Veerashaivas. The people have not forgotten the divide-and-rule policy of the Congress, Bommai stated.

It had opposed its inclusion in the 2A category in 2009 and rejected it in 2016. The incumbent BJP government created a separate category, 2D, and hiked the quota for the Lingayats. Now, the Congress has instigated somebody to file a case in the Supreme Court questioning the reservation for them. The Congress leaders opposed every development for the Lingayats, Bommai claimed.

More than anything, after 1967, except for Veerendra Patil, no Lingayat has become the chief minister of Karnataka. Even Patil was treated badly by the Congress leaders. People know what happened to the Lingayat leaders like M. Rajashekar Murthy and Virupakshappa. Now, they are treating former ruling party leader S.R. Patil very badly and denying him the post of Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council and the post of the Council Chairman, Bommai asserted.

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