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Siddaramaiah’s Lingayat gamble: Can minority status swing BJP’s votebank?

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Minority status has been a long-standing demand of the community, which constitutes 17 per cent of the state’s population.

Bengaluru: Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah’s decision to recommend minority status for the Lingayat community seven weeks before the assembly elections may not yield much politically, at least not yet, rivals and some political observers said.

While the BJP, in opposition in the state, has termed the move an “act of political opportunism”, some observers have expressed doubt over whether the tag alone, without an employment quota, would help the Congress politically as widely expected.

The Lingayat community has been the vote bank of the BJP for more than two decades, and has, over the past 10 years, adopted former CM B.S. Yeddyurappa as its leader, forcing his party to name him its chief ministerial candidate.

Minority status has been a long-standing demand of the community, which constitutes 17 per cent of the state’s population. This week, the Karnataka cabinet endorsed the decision of an expert committee headed by Justice Nagamohan Das to recommend minority religion status for the Lingayats to the Centre. The move was subject to the condition that the minority status of other religions like Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism and Jainism was not harmed.

The BJP has said the decision is an effort to create a rift. “This kind of divisive agenda for the purpose of votes or winning an election cannot bring any fortunes to anybody. It is just a poll strategy,” said BJP spokesperson Malavika Avinash.

“For Siddaramaiah to make such a decision in such a hasty manner is nothing but his way of appeasing his revolting ministers,” Avinash added.

The poll question

There is little doubt that Congress ministers fanned the old demand for a separate religion. It is also a fact that the differences between the Lingayats and the Veerashaiva Lingayats have not spared the ministers either. Observers believe it was for this reason that the state cabinet decided to include the Lingayats as well as the Veerashaiva Lingayats and all those who believed in the ‘Basavanna tatwa’ in the community for the minority tag.

However, Siddaramaiah’s aim was to break the BJP’s hold over the community. Senior Congress leaders believe the status will help swing a substantial section of the community towards the party and thus give it the boost it needs in north Karnataka, where the community is largely based.

But political observers said the move may not yield the result the Congress seeks. Of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka, this decision could have a major impact, either way, in at least 100 seats.

“As far as this election is concerned, this decision may not have the electoral impact that he expects. This movement is limited to a very small section and the community, as a whole, is yet to react to this,” said political analyst Madan Mohan.

“Years ago,” he added, “when there was a call for a census of the Lingayat community, nobody responded. The same way, the community may cold-shoulder the Congress.”

“A few youngsters may support this decision, but the Congress should ensure they can give employment reservation, or they will lose ground,” Mohan said, adding, “Psychologically, people in north Karanataka are aligned to the BJP, so I expect hardly any change in the support.”

Political analyst Harish Ramaswamy said the Congress government could have put some more thought into the decision. “It is a knee-jerk decision that should have been better thought about. The elections will be the best judge of the decision,” he added.

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