Karnataka gamble: Will Congress reap ballot harvest or find yourself with egg on face?

BENGALURU: The state cabinet’s decision to accord minority status to has triggered a debate in political circles, whether it will yield political dividends or boomerang on the , amid allegations that the ruling party is driving a wedge in the community. The community constitutes 17% of the total population in Karnataka, and is the largest chunk.
The Lingayat community, particularly in North Karnataka, has distanced itself from the Congress ever since the party unceremoniously removed Veerendra Patil, a Lingayat, from the CM’s post in 1990. For some time, they aligned with the Janata Parivar under the leadership of , before moving over to the , which they saw as an alternative force to the Congress.

“The issue was hanging fire for seven decades, and no government had dared take a call. Now that the Congress has taken a firm stance, I don’t see any reason for Lingayats not to support the Congress in the election,” said a senior Congress leader who was associated with the movement.

The party is also hoping that its decision to lob the ball into the Centre’s court will leave the BJP in a bind. “Now, the onus is on the Centre. If it doesn’t give minority status to the community, it will definitely antagonize it. If it does, then we will claim the credit,” said another leader, adding that inclusion of Veerashaiva-Lingayats in the recommendation has also doused discontent among Veerashaivas to a large extent. However, BJP leaders feel that though the decision may have pleased the Lingayats, it may not translate into votes since its benefits may take time to reach the community.

Moreover, the state government has not been able to spell out the reservation benefits the community is likely to enjoy under the new status. On the ground too, Lingayats are not very concerned about the issue as they think it’s a gimmick by the Congress before the polls.

However, water resources minister M B Patil, who spearheaded the separate religion movement, said Lingayats will continue to be under Category 3B and any increase in quota for Lingayats will be decided only after the Centre accords minority status to them, and considers the impact of this on existing quotas.

Lingayat ministers in the state government have planned a mammoth rally in Bengaluru, where they plan to felicitate chief minister for according religious minority status to the community.

“The rally will be held within 15 days and we are planning to mobilize around 5lakh Lingayats. This apart, districtlevel conventions are also planned, especially in North Karnataka. This is to keep the issue alive till the elections,” said a party insider.

ELECTORAL GAIN DOUBTFUL

Though it looks like a carefully drawn strategy of the Congress, I don’t think it will stand to gain much in terms of electoral benefits. In fact, the party might lose some votes as there is a feeling among common voters among Lingayats that the Siddaramaiah government has divided them.

—Harish Ramaswamy
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