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To install Yeddyurappa as Karnataka CM, Modi will have to run through the caste barrier

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Even in the former CM’s own village, people are getting ready to vote on caste lines, which means the BJP will have to work hard to win over non-Lingayats.

Mandya/Mysuru/Mangaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an unenviable task at hand in Karnataka — to make a chief minister out of B.S. Yeddyurappa, who seems to inspire little confidence among non-Lingayats, who constitute over 80 per cent of the population.

That’s a big challenge in a state where the electoral discourse is centred around caste loyalties and individual candidates. The BJP’s chief campaigner is seeking to shift the debate by creating a nationalist narrative to counter chief minister Siddaramaiah’s sub-nationalism and identity politics, but neither is finding much resonance on the ground.

To say that only Modi can save the day for the BJP in Karnataka polls is to state an axiom. But he is confronted with more odds in this southern state than he was in any election in the past five years.

Yeddyurappa’s home turf

Public discourse in Bookankere, the native village of the party’s chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa, is illustrative of the challenges Modi faces.

“I and he (BSY) used to steal sugarcanes, mangoes and coconuts when we were children,” Ramegowda, who studied with Yeddyurappa till Class V, remembered nostalgically. He was sitting in the 75-year-old BJP leader’s recently built two-storey ancestral house in KR Pet taluk in Mandya district.

Sharadamma, Yeddyurappa’s elder brother’s widow, stays here, while other members of the family live in Mysuru, 40 km away. She eagerly showed family pictures to visitors, but wouldn’t field any political questions.

Ramegowda is one of the few in this Vokkaliga-dominated village who will vote for the BJP on 12 May when the state goes to polls. While other villagers listed Yeddyurappa’s contributions — a hospital, a temple, and roads, among others — they were split along caste lines in their political preferences. “We are with H.D. Kumaraswamy (of the Janata Dal [Secular]). As chief minister, he had waived off agriculture loans up to Rs 25,000,” said V.K. Krishna Gowda, one of the villagers gathered at a tea stall barely 100 metres from BSY’s house.

Yeddyurappa’s village is located in the Old Mysuru region where the BJP is not a major player, but the party’s chief ministerial candidate doesn’t seem to have non-Lingayat admirers in other regions either. S.R. Naik, a retired banker in Udupi, declared that he would vote for the BJP, but added a caveat that it was for Modi and not because he believed in the RSS ideology. “My vote is not for Yeddyurappa. If he doesn’t work, Modi will remove him,” he said.

Hemant H.M., a taxi driver from Shaktinagar in Mangaluru, said he was a Congress supporter until 2014. He voted “for Modi” in the last Lok Sabha elections. Pointing to the construction work on the Mangaluru-Udupi highway, he said: “They started during the Modi government.”

He also didn’t think much of Yeddyurappa’s credentials and recalled how the BJP removed him from the chief minister’s chair (in 2011, following his indictment in a Lokayukta report on illegal mining). “Modi will run the state from Delhi. See how Yeddyurappa’s son was denied a ticket. Modi will remove him after one or two years,” said Hemant.

Lingayat consolidation

The only advantage of Yeddyurappa’s candidature for the BJP is the possible consolidation of Lingayats in its favour.

Siddaramaiah’s decision to give Lingayats the status of a separate religion was intended to divide the community which moved away from the Congress after then-party president Rajiv Gandhi unceremoniously dumped CM Veerendra Patil in 1990. The gambit does not seem to have gone down well with a majority of the Lingayats.

Feeding his cow under a shed near the site in Srirangapatna where the body of 18th century Mysuru ruler Tipu Sultan was found, Sandesh was upset with Siddaramaiah’s move. “He (the chief minister) is trying to separate two sons of a mother. How can we support him? He has money for Tipu Jayanthi celebrations (another controversial move by the Congress government) but nothing for Linagayat (Basava) Jayanthi,” he said.

What’s working in Congress’s favour

Not that Siddaramaiah has come up trumps with his ‘Karnataka-pride’ card. His government’s decisions to have a separate flag for Karnataka and compulsory teaching of Kannada language in schools hasn’t enthused even party supporters like Asghar Pasha, a paan seller in Hunsur, who sees “no need” for them.

But unlike Yeddyurappa, who had a forgettable tenure as chief minister, Siddaramaiah has splurged freebies in the past five years — free rice and lentils for below poverty line families, free milk to school children, laptops for SC/ST students, tuition fee waivers for meritorious students, loan waivers for SC/ST/OBCs, et al. And these find mentions from people across regions.

Sugata Srinivasaraju, a senior journalist, believes that Modi’s aggressive campaign may add “one or two” percentage points to the BJP’s voteshare in a constituency where it’s already expected to win, but it will not be enough to give a decisive lead to the BJP.

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