Under BS Yediyurappa, Karnataka's Lingayat community mounts massive return to helm of state politics

  • Of the 105 BJP MLAs, 38 belong to the Lingayat community. Among the 17 ministers inducted, seven represent the community.

  • Lingayats hold the key in over 100 Assembly constituencies in north Karnataka

  • Former CM Devaraj Urs broke the stranglehold of the major communities by identifying and giving tickets to members of unrepresented ones

Bengaluru: The BJP central leadership giving the nod for members of the Lingayat community to take up the berth of deputy chief minister and key portfolios such as home, major and medium industries, and transport and law, with BS Yediyurappa at the helm, has signalled the comeback of the community.

The Lingayats, who constitute 17 percent (some peg it at 22 percent) of the state's population, had been pushed to the background in the last one decade despite Yediyurappa and Jagadish Shettar being short-term chief ministers from 2008 to 2011 and 2012 to 2013 respectively. While there was an overrun of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) during Siddaramaiah's tenure, his successor HD Kumaraswamy did not get much of an opportunity to flaunt the caste card as he was embroiled in securing his position.

It is an established norm that the person who becomes the chief minister ensures that his community gets plum and maximum roles in the government, but in the relatively smaller cabinet of the Yediyurappa government of 18 (16 berths are yet to be filled), eight ministers are Lingayats. Of the 105 BJP MLAs, 38 represent this community and in the next instalment of cabinet expansion, some more Lingayats have to be accommodated.

 Under BS Yediyurappa, Karnatakas Lingayat community mounts massive return to helm of state politics

File image of BS Yediyurappa taking oath as chief minister. PTI

While Yediyurappa is facing flak from within and outside the party for having agreed to three deputy chief ministers, the one being singled out for criticism is Laxman S Savadi, who lost the 2018 Assembly polls and has been inducted now. Savadi had to resign as minister in 2012 for watching porn clippings during an Assembly session along with another of his cabinet colleagues, CC Patil, who has also been inducted into the ministry and is a Panchamsali Lingayat.

"It's strange and unbelievable that double representation has been given to one community (chief minister and his deputy being from the same caste). The deputy chief minister's post, if created, is to balance caste and region, which is not the case here," Congress MLC Mohan Kondajji said, adding, "Caste has become so embedded in the system that even if a ticket is given to an unrepresented community now, it is difficult to get elected."

To stave off the criticism as his induction has led to sugar baron and senior BJP MLA Umesh V Katti missing out on a cabinet berth, the BJP's justification is that Savadi represents Prime Minister Narendra Modi's caste. Savadi is a Ganiga (oil extractors), a sect in the Lingayats, who are a forward community in Karnataka, while the Ganigas in Gujarat have been given the Backward Classes tag. His cabinet colleague JC Madhuswamy, minister for law and minor irrigation, is also a Ganiga, but his community goes by the name of Nonabas in Tumukuru district.

Katti, who is hopeful of making it in the next expansion said, "I did not get elected to only become a minister. If the leadership thinks it's appropriate to take me, it will happen. Presently, I am preoccupied with overseeing the relief operations in the flood-ravaged areas of my constituency."

Of the 224 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka, over 100 constituencies in north Karnataka are dominated by the Lingayats and are the deciding factor for a candidate's victory. The highest number of Lingayat MLAs to be elected was in 1989 when the Congress won a brute majority of 184 MLAs and the Lingayat legislators numbered 60. Community strongman Veerandra Patil became the chief minister before he was unceremoniously sacked in 1990 and it was also the beginning of the end of the Lingayat's goodwill with the Congress.

The Congress' efforts over the years to rectify the damage has not been successful. It appointed MB Patil as the home minister in the JD(S)-Congress government and made Eshwar Khandre as the working president of the KPCC. Attempts by some Lingayat ministers in the Siddaramaiah regime to accord religious minority status to the community were rejected by the Modi government.

Karnataka Youth Congress Committee president Basanagouda Patil, who is a Lingayat himself, said the over-representation to his community does not augur well for the social fabric of the state, which has been looked upon as a secular one. "What is more shocking is that a person, who lost the Assembly polls and stepped down as minister for watching a porn clip during the legislature session in 2012, has been made the deputy chief minister," Patil added.

A senior Congress legislator said the caste domination was broken by former chief minister D Devaraj Urs, who used to identify economically and socially weak persons from other communities and give them tickets to contest. According to the legislator, Urs was once asked by Jat leader late Charan Singh on how he managed to get his ideas and decisions approved without opposition from his partymen. The strategy was that Urs would support financially weak MLAs so that they were not tempted to make money through postings and contracts.

"Hence, when Urs would place his decisions before the legislators, they would be accepted. Now it is the market economy that determines the price of MLAs and is managed by the BJP central leadership. The caste system is so deep that the chief minister's media advisors also are picked from the same community," the Congress legislator said.

Updated Date: Aug 30, 2019 08:20:10 IST