All parties eye Lingayats in Karnataka
Ahead of Assembly polls next year, a new political drama has started in Karnataka. For the votes of Linagayat community, which contains at least 16 per cent of the state population, both the Congress and the BJP had started wooing this section in their sides. While the Congress appears floating a trial balloon and attempting to keep the BJP on tenterhooks with Karnataka's caste arithmetic, it would be critical for the BJP to sidetrack the issue, since the Lingayats were the mainstay of their electoral support. However, this issue, wrapped in layers of complexity, puts the spotlight on how politics shapes caste and religious identities. For decades most Lingayats have voted as a block for the BJP, led by B S Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat who presided over a scandal-prone government from 2008 to 2011. But the community now seems divided, with some mutts asking for minority-religion status and others content to be counted as a caste within Hinduism. And, while by supporting the demand, the Congress in the state stands to be seen as chipping away at the BJP's attempt to forge a unified Hindu identity.
The BJP appears having tough time to pacify the voices of dissidence among Lingayats against them. Assembly elections are due in 2018 in the only major state in south where Congress is in power and BJP eying on it. But by tactfully supporting the demand for Lingayat to be given the status of an independent religion and asking some of his ministers to gauge the mood of the community on this issue, the Congress has put Yeddyurappa and BJP in a catch-22 situation: if they support the demand, then it will put pressure on PM Modi to take a call; and if they don't, BJP runs the risk of alienating the community which has been the substratum of their politics in the state. It may be noted that it was the apparent rift between the Lingayat and the Ahinda vote bank (Dalits, minorities and OBCs) that ensured the Congress victory in 2013. With another election looming ahead, his public support for the Lingayats' demand for a separate religious status would help the Congress. On the other hand, it may cost heavy for the BJP as Yedyurappa is accused of losing his Lingayat credibility to his RSS roots that go deep into the foundations of a more traditional form of Hinduism. Even the Central government, which can officially elevate Lingayatism from a mere sect into a religion, the BJP's ideology of Hindu nationalism necessitates it to oppose any step that cuffs of undermining Hindu solidarity. While the BJP is keen to win over naive, mostly lower-caste Hindus from southern states – to cement its grip on national politics, the Congress is the obvious beneficiary of divisions among the BJP's supporters in Karnataka. The coming twists in this Lingayat tale would decide the fate of both the parties, it seems.