Amid heightened buzz within a section of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that the exit of Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa was on the cards, community factor seems to have come to the fore, with prominent Veerashaiva-Lingayat political leaders across party lines and seers throwing their weight behind him.
Several seers and leaders of the dominant community, which is estimated to form about 16 per cent of the state’s population, have cautioned the BJP against any move to dislodge the 78-year-old Lingayat strongman from the chief minister's post.
The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community is considered to be the BJP's core support base.
With a new round of speculation on whether the replacement of Yediyurappa is round the corner, senior Congress leader and head of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, said the community is behind the chief minister.
"They (BJP leadership) should remember history – S Nijalingappa, Veerendra Patil, J H Patel and S R Bommai (all former chief ministers). They will destroy themselves if they attempt such a thing," Shivashankarappa said in response to a question on reports that the BJP is mulling replacing Yediyurappa.
Stating that the community wants him to continue as the chief minister, he said Yediyurappa has built the party from scratch.
"Veerashaiva Mahasabha is behind him... As long as Yediyurappa is there, they (BJP) will be there. If Yediyurappa is disturbed, things will end there," he said.
Another prominent Congress leader from the Lingayat community and former minister M B Patil has warned that the BJP may face the wrath of Lingayats if they "ill-treat" a tall leader like Yediyurappa.
"BJP should value the contribution of Yediyurappa and treat him with dignity. This is my personal opinion, understanding that the proposed changes may be the internal matter of the BJP," he said.
However, the statement by senior Congress leaders, coming out in the open in support of Yediyurappa, is seen as an attempt to enhance their clout in the community by attracting his Veerashaiva-Lingayat support base towards themselves.
Several prominent seers from the community like Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, head of the Chitradurga-based Sri Jagadguru Murugharajendra Mutt, Sri Veera Someshwara Shivacharya Swami of Rambhapuri Peetha of Balehonnur, and Srisaila Jagadguru Channa Siddharama Panditaradhya have also favoured Yediyurappa's continuation, while warning the BJP.
Veera Someshwara Shivacharya Swami said any move to replace Yediyurappa will have "big consequences" for the BJP.
"Friction is common in politics, let anyone say anything, but we have confidence that B S Yediyurappa will continue as the chief minister and complete the term. If there are any shortcomings in this, it will have big consequences for the party," he said.
Yediyurappa has support from people across parties and communities for his efficient work during floods and Covid, even at this age, the seer said.
"I have confidence that the national leadership (of BJP) will not allow it (CM’s replacement)," he added.
Murugha Sharanaru said Yediyurappa is among the great statesmen-politicians that the state has seen, and he is a force to reckon with.
"Yediyurappa may be Lingayat by birth, but he is a mass leader who can take all the communities together. Nothing should happen that affects the dignity of a tall Lingayat leader like him. He has grown from the grassroot level and functioned effectively during Covid, and his continuation is the wish of various pontiffs, people, organisations and political leaders across party lines," he added.
Siddharama Panditaradhya said, "Yediyurappa may be old, but he's still working. He should be allowed to continue."
Yediyurappa is known for having provided generous grants to mutts and religious institutions during his previous term as chief minister, and thereby has earned their trust, according to some analysts.
Recently, amid speculation about his replacement, Yediyurappa's younger son and state BJP vice president B Y Vijayendra had held a series of meetings with prominent Veerashaiva-Lingayat seers, which had raised eyebrows in political circles.
Siddharama Panditaradhya swamiji and Veera Someshwara Shivacharya Swami had even paid a visit to Yediyurappa's home in Shivamogga, recently.
However, Yediyurappa's main detractors are also from within the community.
Disgruntled BJP MLAs Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Arvind Bellad, who are said to be among those at the forefront of the efforts that have been on for some time now for the CM's replacement, also belong to the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.
The community, which owes allegiance to the 12th century social reform movement initiated by Basaveshwara, has a substantial population in Karnataka, especially in the northern parts of the state.
The politically influential community is considered to have a significant presence in about 140 of the total 224 assembly constituencies in the state, and decisive in about 90 seats, according to political observers.