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Karnataka poll can be close call for congress

party has also decided not to give tickets to sitting MLA’s barring former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa fearing that an anti-incumbency fact or could marr the electoral prospects of party in the event of a close contest.

(Kushal Jeena)

The political parties in the upcoming assembly polls in Karnataka are eyeing to capture new voters that accounts for 12 percent of the state electorate as contest seems to be a close call. Working on a similar strategy three major political parties ruling Congress, and opposition BJP and Janata Dal (S) have set the winnability as the sole criteria for the selection of their party candidates.

After the incumbent chief minister Siddaramiah played a master stroke recommending religious minority status to politically significant Lingayat community, which holds influence over 17 percent of state electorate and has been staunch supporters of the BJP, the opposition parties are treading cautiously on the caste factor during the candidate selection process. With a vertical split likely to happen among Lingayat voters, the BJP is now banking upon young, undecided voters.

The party has also decided not to give tickets to sitting MLA’s barring former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa fearing that an anti-incumbency fact or could marr the electoral prospects of party in the event of a close contest. The party is trying to rope in fresh faces in the electoral fray to attract young voters who prefer new faces over old guards. The principle opposition party in the state is leaving no stone unturned to make up for the Lingayat damage by pulling in new and young voters.

On the other hand the ruling Congress has pursued a tough candidate screening process. A high application fee and a tough set of questions for candidates during interview and test have not deterred aspirants applying for tickets from the Congress party. Besides, caste equations based on a survey that the party leadership had ordered before the beginning of the candidate selection process are also being considered as one of the key factor. Even an iota of doubt about the winnibality of the candidate, then he or she is being kept out of the process.

With major political parties going through a tough selection process it seems apparent that the parties having high stakes want to put together best candidates making the contest further close and interesting. The political parties are giving more credence to the caste background of the winning candidates is evident from the fact that the dominance of the Lingyats and Vokkaligas, the two major communities in the southern Karnataka.

However, caste equations this time would see a drastic change in the voting pattern as with a major split in the Lingayats and consolidation of Vokkaliggas which has given a clear edge to the Congress party. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who belongs to Vokkaligga community has successfully engineered a division among Lingayats bringing some of them to the Congress folds and thereby upsetting BJP’s applecart.

The caste break-up of the previous assembly elections shows that Lingayats and Vokkaliggas secured over half of the number of total seats. Lingayats won 60 seats whereas Vokkaliggas bagged 50. Siddaramaiah government recently declared Lingayats as a religious minority and included the Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna’s philosphy as a group within the community.

“Now, the onus is on the Centre. If it doesn’t give minority status to the community, it will definitely antagonize them. If it does, then we will claim the credit,” said Madhusudan Mishtry, a senior Congress leader and in charge of Karnataka.

The analysts and experts who have been following electoral trends of the two major religious communities in Karnataka are of the view that the move could go either way for the ruling Congress party as a major shift in Lingyatas from BJP to Congress would certainly alter the caste equations in the state.

Of the 224-member Karnataka assembly Lingayats influence nearly 100 seats and is the largest chunk in the state population. They have been traditionally supporters of the BJP as the party has always projected a Lingayat as its chief ministerial candidate after the party made inroads in the southern state. By including Veerashaivas as group within the Lingayat community the Congress has been successful in stemming the discontent among the community that would work in favour of Congress.

Lingayats are follower of 12th-century social reformer Basavanna and his philosophy. Their beliefs, practices and faith are different. Veerashaivas worship Lord Shiva. Veershaivas are a sub-sect of Lingayats and followers of Lord Shiva. They don’t worship any god other than Shiva. They have their areas of influence in regions across Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana.

Lingayats have been revolting against oppression and discrimination by the Veershaivas, who are politically and economically dominant group within the community.

Once Lingyats are notified as religious minority, they will get additional benefits in education and employment on par with other minorities. The minorities-run educational institutions get certain exemptions in India and in Karnataka Lingayats community runs majority of the educational institutions.

“Recommendation has been made for granting independent religious minority status to people who follow and believe in Bavasanna’s philosophies. We hope centre will accept and grant status to the community,” said the chief minister Siddaramaiah.

“We have taken decided that the BJP will abide by the decision taken by the Akhila Bhartha Veershaiva Mahasbha,”said B S Yeddyurappa, former chief minister and currently state BJP President. The Mahasabha, the highest religious body of the sect has welcomed the decision of Siddaramaiah government.

Karnataka is one of the few states where India’s oldest political Congress party is currently in power. The incumbent chief minister Siddaramaiah is the only Congress chief minister who had completed five years in power. His government has been making all out efforts to woo different communities and the chief minister had announced a series welfare schemes to benefit almost all sections of the society in the state.

The Janata Dal (Secular) headed by former Prime Minister H D Devegowda is the third major player in the Karnataka’s politics. In the ensuing elections Gowda’s party is going to be a deciding factor in case a hung assembly elections verdict comes in. Despite having secularism as its major policy framework the JD (S) could go either way in the event of a split result after the assembly elections. The party supremo has so far kept cards close to its chest and is expected to go for a hard bargain if gets more than 30 seats. In the last assembly JD (S) had 40-odd seats.

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