New Status for Lingayats become a poll issue in Karnataka

Seventeen per cent of the voters make up the Lingayat community in the State


Is the Karnataka debate over an influential sect of the Lingayats raising a political storm? Are the moves to confer the status of a minority and take them out of the Hindu society causing heartburn in the Saffron brigade or is it a proverbial storm in the tea cup? Has it been done at this point of time as the State prepares to go to the polls in the second week of May? Are these election gimmicks, as is alleged by the Opposition in Karnataka?

If it were so or not so, the proposal for a special status for a section of the Lingayat community would not have been made way back in 2003 by the tallest living leader of the Lingayat community and former BJP Chief Minister of the State, Mr.Y.S.Yeddyurappa, to boot?

Seventeen per cent of the voters make up the Lingayat community in the State. That is how “Yeddy” became a trump card for the BJP in the New Millennium. But are the times a-changing for him? Is he getting the blues and blushes, a medicine of his own concoction being administered to him? How does he face the Lingayat groups at this time of electoral summer? He denies being divisive, but when it suited him, was it not so divisive?

The Lingayat lot may be the largest vote bank in Karnataka, but have new seeds of discontent been thrown into their thoughts as well as consciousness? Are these the games political elements play when in and out of power? Poor dear Yeddy! Is he beginning to feel sorry for himself and unable to look right or left, except that he may be in the mode of self-pity?

Mr. Y.S.Yeddyurappa thought that nobody could touch him or challenge him. His famous, and perhaps infamous, words as well as his tall claims at that time were: “Nobody dare replace Yeddy or take his place. Yeddy succeeds Yeddy”. These words were uttered by a euphoric Yeddy outside 11 Ashoka Road with a big crowd in tow; that was the address of the BJP central office in New Delhi then. He had been summoned by the BJP High Command to convey to him that he had to resign or would be sacked. He was not the one to give up, the party’s high command or no high command. But a compromise formula was that he should prove his innocence; the benefit of the doubt would suffice, he was told.

He had been hauled up by the Karnataka Lokayukta over an alleged land scam involving allotment of the State’s land to some in his family and a few others. He denied it and went in appeal when the successor to Mr. Justice Santosh Hegde had taken over as the new Lokayukta; did he let him off the hook for lack of sufficient evidence? His self-confidence grew and his ruddy cheeks became ruddier with wide smiles; and his great girth stayed intact. He may have been proved right. But sooner or later, he lost the elections and he had to yield ground to the Congress in Karnataka, which has almost completed five years in office.

Have the days of his nemesis caught up with him out of the blue? Time was when he could boast that he was indispensable; and he is hoping to win the upcoming Assembly elections and become Chief Minister once again. But has a spanner been thrown in the works for his ambitions? Have his dreams about revival of his political fortunes become a nightmare of sorts?

The debate was apparently started in 2003 when Mr.Y.S.Yeddyurappa was Chief Minister and he possibly sought a minority status to kick up a political hornet’s nest or divert attention from his legal hassles and score brownie points over his rivals within his own party, the BJP, and contenders to the throne in other parties; he managed to divert attention from his woes over pieces of land “officially allocated”, allegedly to benefit some in his family circle and some others, brought before the Karnataka Lok Ayukta, the State level Ombudsman .

The issues concerning the various sects of the Lingayat community were shelved when Yeddy took office. But the present Chief Minister, Mr. Siddahramaih, has sought to revive the move by trying to declare a section of the Lingayat people a minority community. However, it is a constitutional question and not within the domain of the State Government.

It is in this light that the Union Government is unwilling to take cognizance of the surprise announcement by the present Chief Minister. The Centre cannot afford to have similar demands being raised in a number of States in the country; it would wish to nip divisive trends nipped in the bud in Karnataka and anywhere else. The Home Ministry has before it an internal note, which opposes fissiparous trends following the Lingayat debate; according to official sources, it has no leg to stand on. Such debates would disturb the balance of governance and an unlimited number of groups might seek minority status; where would it stop, it is argued?

Are these election time gimmics to win over an important section of society? Was it politics of vote banks 15 years ago and now by another political dispensation that is in power? Is it fair game in war and love, the war that’s in the arena of elections?

Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.

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