Karnataka is all set to witness the much-anticipated high-octane political battle as it goes to polls in less than two weeks. And as obvious and expected, both the Congress and BJP are in no mood to leave any stone unturned to woo the Lingayats – a community that accounts for 10 to 17 per cent of the state’s population.
Stakes are high for the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress as Karnataka is one of the few states where the party is in power. Also, Siddaramaiah is the first chief minister in the state to complete a five-year tenure.
The BJP, on the other hand, is looking at adding another state to their kitty, riding on ‘Modi wave’ and the ambitious campaign blitzkrieg by party president Amit Shah.
Why Lingayats are at the core of this election
According to various surveys, Lingayats can influence voting in nearly 100 seats of the 224 Assembly seats going to polls in May. The community has a large presence in central Karnataka, particularly in Davanagere, Chitradurga and Shivamogga.
Also, the state has so far had nine chief ministers belonging to the Lingayat community, before Siddaramaiah-led Congress came to power in the state. The community has also sent a number of leaders to the Centre.
Why Lingayat vote is vital for BJP
Lingayats are traditionally known to vote for the BJP and in return, the party has always given the community a major chunk in terms of party tickets.
Also, what may prove beneficial for the saffron party is that B S Yeddyurappa – BJP’s CM candidate in the state – is a stalwart in the community. The party’s 2008 win, when the party came to power in Karnataka for the first time, is largely credited to the support it received from the Lingayat community.
The BJP has seen its Lingayat vote base shrinking from 2008 to 2013. The state government's decision to grant minority status to the community is an attempt at further splitting the saffron party's vote base, which the BJP is hoping to counter by playing the 'sympathy card' to kindle sentiments in favour of its chief ministerial candidate, BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat himself.
Will religious minority status to Lingayats turn into votes for Congress or backfire?
In its bid to woo the community voters, the Congress played its trump card by recommending a separate religion for Lingayats – a move initially seen as a masterstroke.
Obviously, the move was intended to splinter the Lingayat vote base of BJP. According to Times Now-VMR Survey, close to 40 per cent of the people surveyed believed that Congress’ ‘Lingayat card’ has influenced their vote.
However, recent opinion polls have found that the Lingayat issue is not determining the vote choice. In fact, those favouring separate religion status are favouring BJP even more.
According to a pre-poll survey by a leading Hindi news channel, 60 per cent of the Lingayats are likely to vote for the saffron party despite Siddaramaiah’s ‘masterstroke’.
Also, an overwhelming majority says Congress is not going to benefit from raising this issue, directly or indirectly. And this sentiment is cutting across the region. The most notable reaction from the Lingayats is that the whole thing is an election gimmick aimed at dividing their community and vote.
The BJP has slammed the Siddaramaiah government for playing "vote bank politics" by recommending a separate religion status to Lingayats just ahead of the Karnataka Assembly election.
For the Congress, appeasing Lingayats could be a master stroke, or it could backfire and prompt the community to once again back Yeddyurappa.
Survey predicts hung Assembly; JD(S) may play ‘kingmaker’
The Times Now-VMR survey has indicated that the forthcoming Karnataka Assembly elections are likely to witness a “photo finish”, with the rivals BJP and Congress neck and neck.
The survey stated that in the 224-member House, the Congress is likely to get 91 seats, and the BJP just two seats fewer. The JD(S) could emerge as the kingmaker with 40 seats.
The survey predicts a loss of 31 seats for Congress while a gain of 49 seats for BJP.
The saffron party is making an all-out bid to oust the Congress government from the state.
According to the state Chief Electoral Office, 2,655 candidates are fray for the May 12 Assembly polls, which is expected to set the mood for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Polling will be held in a single phase for all the 224-Assembly constituencies in the state, including 36 reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 15 for Scheduled Tribes (STs). Counting of votes will take place on May 15.