Ministers Vinay Kulkarni and MB Patil, who came to prominence with the issue of separate religion for Lingayat community in Karnataka, are facing similar challenges in their respective constituencies in the assembly elections.
Vinay Kulkarni, who belongs to a Lingayat sub-caste Panchamsaali, will be facing a tough challenge from the BJP candidate Amrut Desai in Dharwad assembly constituency. Amrut Desai had joined the BJP from JDS during the last general election. Amrut Desai belongs to Sadar Linagayt another Linagayat sub-caste. His family has a reputation in Dharwad rural area.
In the 2013 assembly election, Amrut Desai was in second place against Vinay Kulkarni. Owing to the division of Lingayat and traditional vote base between BJP and BS Yeddyurappa-led KJP, BJP MLA Seema Masuti was pushed to third place.
BJP believes Desai's family name, his caste and party name will pose a challenge for Vinay Kulkarni. However, there is a problem for the saffron party. Former BJP MLA Seema Masuti, who is also a Lingayat leader, may rebel against the party's decision to field Amrut Desai and may contest as an independent candidate. It may be recalled that Seema Masuti had defeated Vinay Kulkarni in 2008 assembly elections.
At this juncture, it is difficult to say whether only caste will play a vital role as both the leaders are Lingayat. BJP may say that traditional votes be consolidated for the since BS Yeddyurappa back to the saffron fold, but Seema Masuti's rebellion may hamper Amrut Desai's prospects. Certainly, there is a direct fight between the BJP and Congress.
On the other hand, another Congress leader MB Patil has similar challenges in Babaleshwar constituency in Bijapur district. MB Patil belongs to a small Lingayat sub-caste called as Koodu Vokkaliga, which is numerically not dominant in the Lingayat community.
His opponent from the BJP Viju Gowda Patil, like Amrut Desai, has joined the BJP from JDS. Viju Gowda Patil had lost against MB Patil by mere 2000 votes in the last assembly elections. He belongs to Lingayat sub-caste Panchamasaali. This sub-caste has 70,000 votes in the Babaleshwar constituency.
However, MB Patil has an advantage over Viju Gowda Patil. Panchamasaali community pontiff, Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swamiji of Kudalasangama, one of the predominant pontiffs demanding separate religion for Lingayats, has assured his support to MB Patil.
Angered by the move, heads of various Veerashaiva Mutts in the state openly declared war against the party. They called upon the people to defeat chief minister, Siddaramaiah, minister MB Patil, and five other ministers including Vinay Kulkarni, who worked together to break the community.
The Lingayat issue has made the people keep their fingers crossed. Lingayat votes are likely to be divided in this elections in both of these hotly contested elections. It is upto the candidates to capitalise on their party name and work they have done in their constituencies.