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As Karnataka poll date nears, Lingayat issue runs completely out of steam


The Lingayat issue was supposed to be a key factor in the Karnataka Assembly Elections. However, as polling date gets closer, the issue has run completely out of steam. Political analysts say that the BJP did the right thing by not speaking about it.

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Speaking about the issue would lead to a major debate and the BJP would have walked right into the trap set by the Congress. In most Lingayat dominated areas, it is a non-issue. The people are more interested in getting the water crisis solved or other issues pertaining to development.

Going by the various poll surveys, there is an indication that it is a talking point, but would not dent the BJP's vote bank. The Congress would have been aware of this and the decision was taken more with an intention of confusing the BJP. The intention was to restrict the BJP to the Lingayat dominated areas so as to ensure that other parts of the state are not entirely focused on.

The first couple of days into the elections witnessed debates centred around just this issue. The BJP at first said that this was an attempt to divide the Hindus. However, later into the campaign, it ensured that the narrative was changed.

The other point that needs to be noted here is that the over-emphasising the issue has angered the rest of the communities, especially the Vokkaligas.

Some would argue that with so much emphasis being given to the Lingayats, there is a good chance that there would be a back-lash from the Vokkaligas. This has been a traditional vote bank of the JD(S) and Congress. The JD(S) has already picked up the Lingayat issue and is portraying Siddaramaiah as anti-Vokkaliga. The Vokkaligas are a dominant community and their votes do shape the outcome of any election.

If the Vokkaligas who are loyal to the Congress change track and go with the JD(S) then the state is looking at a hung house. In this context, I would see a BJP-JD(S) government in Karnataka, a source following the developments closely said. The anti-Vokkaliga campaign launched by the JD(S) against Siddaramaiah is now being debunked by the Congress. M Siddegowda who quit the JD(S) to join the Congress said that the Vokkaligas do not indulge in caste politics and will back Siddaramaiah.

Leading psephologist, Dr. Sandeep Shastri says that traditionally the Vokkaligas vote has seen a three way split and a large chunk of its has gone to the JD(S). At one level, the emphasis by the Congress on the Lingayat factor could have an impact for it in terms of Vokkaliga votes.

Dr Shastri however says that the Congress focus is on the OBC, Dalit and minority votes. On the other hand the BJP has been very clever in not over-emphasising on the Lingayat issue. They have stuck to the point that the Congress is dividing Hindus. If you look at the BJP's presence and expansion in the old Mysore region, then an important focus of the party has been on the Vokkaliga votes. It would not be right to say that the BJP has not taken cognisance of the Vokkaliga votes.

The JD(S) on the other hand depends on the Vokkaliga votes. In 2013, they put up a reasonably good show thanks to their performance in the old Mysuru region barring Bangalore urban and rural. In this region, a majority of the seats went to the JD(S) and the Congress failed to bag many. The BJP is making a conscious effort to make inroads further into the old Mysuru region. With this spreading, it is early to say how much of an impact will the Lingayat vote have on the Vokkaligas especially in the old Mysore region, Dr Shastri also points out.

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