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.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.