The ruling Bharatiya Janatha Party in Karnataka finds itself in doldrums following the launch of a new political outfit by former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa last Sunday. Like always it is going to be a major caste factor that will come into play in the changed political scenario in Karnataka.
When the BJP came to power in the state four years back it was clear that they won largely due to the votes from the Lingayat community as they had projected B S Yeddyurappa as their leader. However, with Yeddyurappa out of the party, it would be interesting to see what would happen of this vote bank.
The Lingayats, who have nearly 5000 mutts in Karnataka, have been very vocal about who they want as their leader. There was a time when they subscribed only to the Congress when it had made Veerendra Patil the chief minister. However, his sudden ouster proved costly for the party in Karnataka and the Congress has never got the support of the Lingayats since then.
Many Lingayats in Karnataka would now say that they are fed up with national parties as they are always at the mercy of their high command. Today they want a regional party with a Lingayat leader so that the entire command centre remains in the state.
Among all the Lingayat leaders in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa has been the most vocal and hence they would want him to have a say in state politics. He is assertive and unlike Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, also a Lingayat, they find Yeddyurappa to have more guts and feel that he would represent the community better.
Moreover, Yeddyurappa's largesse while granting funds to the Lingayat mutts while he was the CM is also something that they have not forgotten. However, that cannot be said in the case of Shettar who has been slow to react to the situation and make best of his position as a Lingayat leader.
The Linagayats feel that Yeddyurappa is still the best choice and the fact that neither the Janatha Dal-Secular nor the Congress has portrayed a leader from their community makes them tilt more towards the former CM of Karnataka.
In addition to this, the Lingayats also are upset with the manner in which Yeddyurappa has been treated by the BJP. Many would point out that Jagadish Shettar does not have the kind of influence that Yeddyurappa has over the mutts and the community. The difference between Yeddyurappa and Shettar is that the former continued to build his Lingayat base whereas the latter till date has not made a single move to build the confidence of this community.
The question is whether this complete backing which Yeddyurappa has of the Lingayat community would translate into votes? The Lingayat community comprises 17 per cent of the state's population, a majority of which is in the northern part of Karnataka.
Yeddyurappa may be facing a host of corruption charges, but the Lingayats argue that no one is clean in politics. There is no alternative leader in the state and hence they would still back him. However, they are also quick to add that Yeddyurappa has been a victim of political conspiracy and they all sympathise with him.
"This has made us more united than ever and hence we think it would be best to have a regional party rather than depend on the high command of a national party," a Lingayat leader said.
The Lingayats are however aware that Yeddyurappa's new political outfit will not get the majority to form a government.
"However, if we all back him, he will become a formidable force in the state," the leader added.
The last time the BJP came to power, the Lingayat votes titled towards Yeddyurappa. However this time they feel that more votes would go to him as even the sub-sects within the Lingayat community are united in favour of Yeddyurappa.
When asked about how many seats could Yeddyurappa win with the complete support of the Lingayats, he said that he could touch anything between 20 and 25 seats which itself is good enough to have a say in Karnataka politics.
While the Lingayat mutts appear confident, there is also another argument to the same. The last time around Yeddyurappa was with the BJP and was projected as the CM candidate. However, this time around he plays the role of a kingmaker. Now is that the same? This is something that the elections would tell.
The biggest loser would however be the BJP in all this. The votes are likely to get split and Yeddyurappa threatens to snatch away a bulk of them especially in northern Karnataka.
The Congress would also look to exploit some of these votes if it openly declares an alliance with Yeddyurappa after the Karnataka elections.