Assembly election

In Karnataka, the Congress’ Lingayat gamble did not work – save in some seats

The Lingayat-dominated Bombay Karnataka, Central Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka regions saw a BJP revival.

One of the biggest questions leading up to the Karnataka Assembly elections on Saturday was: will the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government’s recommendation to the Centre to declare Lingayats a religious minority fetch the party votes from the community? As the election results were announced on Tuesday, it became clear that the answer to this question is as complicated as the community’s views on whether they wish to break away from the Hindu faith.

While it is difficult to isolate the reasons for electoral choices, it seems the Congress’ gamble has not paid off in most of the Lingayat-dominated constituencies, even though it may have given the party an edge in some individual contests.

The Lingayats of Karnataka are followers of the 12th-century philosopher and social reformer Basava. They are widely believed to account for 17% of the state’s population and their vote is said to be decisive in more than 100 of the state’s 224 Assembly seats. While a section of the community has aggressively demanded that they be recognised as a religious group distinct from Hindus, another section has equally fervently opposed this demand. In July, close to 2 lakh community members had gathered in Bidar to break away from Hinduism. But when Siddaramaiah announced his government’s acceptance of their demand in March this year, a section of the community dismissed it as a cynical political move and accused the chief minister of trying to break their unity.

BJP revival

Without the Lingayat movement, some Congress leaders argued, the party would have been completely wiped out in the regions dominated by the community.

The community has traditionally supported the BJP – which fielded Lingayat strongman BS Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate. In 2013, Yeddyurappa had contested the polls separately after walking away from the BJP. This had split the Lingayat vote and worked to the advantage of the Congress.

On Tuesday though, the Lingayat-dominated regions of Bombay-Karnataka and Central Karnataka showed a BJP revival. In Bombay Karnataka, the party won 30 of the total 50 seats, up from the 13 it had won in 2013. The Congress won 17 seats, down from its tally of 31, despite Siddaramaiah contesting and winning from Badami in the region. Of Central Karnataka’s 36 seats, the BJP won 15, up from three in 2013, while the Congress’ tally dropped from 19 to 13.

Hyderabad Karnataka, another Lingayat-dominated area, saw a close contest between the BJP and Congress. Eventually, the BJP added five seats to its 2013 tally of five while the Congress retained its lead with 21 out of 40 seats. It had won 23 seats in 2013.

Overall, the BJP emerged the single largest party with 104 seats but short of the majority mark of 113, while the Congress tallied 78 seats. After the results, some BJP leaders contended the Congress’ performance was a consequence of its meddling in the Lingayat matter.

That three of the four prominent Lingayat Ministers in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet who led the movement lost badly seems to be another clear sign that the move had backfired for the Congress.

The BJP's revival has also been attributed to the return of Lingayat leader BS Yeddyurappa. (Credit: PTI)
The BJP's revival has also been attributed to the return of Lingayat leader BS Yeddyurappa. (Credit: PTI)

Consolation victories

However, Siddaramaiah’s move appears to have worked to the Congress’ advantage in at least some constituencies.

If three ministers – Basavaraj Rayaraddi, Vinay Kulkarni, and Sharan Prakash Patil – lost their seats, the fourth, MB Patil, a prominent Congress face of the Lingayat movement, defeated the BJP’s Vijaykumar Sidramagouda Patil by 29,715 votes to retain Babaleshwar in North Karnataka, a stronghold of the community. This was a repeat of the 2013 result, but MB Patil had won with a smaller margin of 4,355 votes then.

In Basavakalyan in Hyderabad Karnataka – the region where Basava lived – the party won an election for the first time since 1978. This constituency had for years seen a contest between the BJP and Janata Dal (Secular) but on Tuesday elected the Congress’ B Narayanrao, a backward classes leader. His victory margin over his nearest rival, the BJP’s Mallikarjun Sidramappa Khuba, was 11.9%.

Basavakalyan has been intrinsic to the Lingayat movement. Dr Basavalinga Pattadevaru, president of the Anubhava Mantapa – a spiritual parliament in the likeness of the one created by Basava – was instrumental in mobilising support for last year’s rally in Bidar.

The Congress also gave an improved performance in Bhalki, 40 km from Basavakalyan. Its candidate Eshwar Khandre retained the seat he had won in 2008 and 2013 but with a considerably bigger margin. He polled 21,438 votes more than the BJP’s DK Sidram. In 2013, Khandre’s victory margin was 9,669 votes.

Incidentally, Khandre had last year asked Lingayats to resist any attempt to divide the community. But as several voters in Bhalki told Scroll.in in April, their vote would go to the Congress in gratitude to Siddaramaiah for supporting the community.

Other factors

There were many cases where the verdicts showed the complicated nature of the electoral battle, with some party leaders arguing that the Congress would have fared even worse without the Lingayat movement.

In Aurad, despite signs of support for minority religious status for Lingayats, the constituency elected the BJP’s Prabhu Chouhan for a third consecutive term, albeit with a narrower victory margin of 10,592 votes compared to 23,191 votes in 2013.

In Bidar South – the venue for the Lingayat mega rally in July – the main contest was between Bandeppa Kashempu, a Kuruba leader of the Janata Dal (Secular), and Dr Shailendra Beldale, an influential Lingayat leader of the BJP, with the Congress’ Ashok Kheny coming in third. Kashempu, who had opposed Lingayat attempts to obtain backward class certificates, defeated Beldale by 12,742 votes.

But Hubli-Dharwad Central saw a contest between two Lingayat candidates with BJP veteran Jagadish Shettar defeating the Congress’ Dr Mahesh Nalwad. Shettar has held the constituency (formerly Hubballi-Rural) for nearly two and a half decades now.

The Congress’ Shamanur Shivashankarappa, a Lingayat, was elected for a third term from Davangere South, another constituency with a sizeable Lingayat presence. However, Shivashankarappa had opposed his party’s demand for minority religious status for the community. On Tuesday, his victory margin dropped from 40,158 votes in 2013 to 15,884 votes.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.