With every assembly election around the corner, there is an issue on card that the parties in the fray irrevocably harp on. Till now BJP has pulled off a pretty good show in assembly elections the latest being its thunderous victory in the North East.
If not for the losses in Gorakhpur and Phulpur it’s track record would have been flawless till now claiming it’s rule in 21 Indian states, etching a legacy of its own.
But the litmus test for the saffron brigade is still on as the focus shifts to the upcoming Karnataka elections. As the assembly elections approach BJP’s road to victory seems to get edgier with new challenges upfront in every state.
The BJP already faced flak in Karnataka time and again not to mention the cow slaughter issue which sparked a war of words between Yogi Adityanath and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
BJP has always remained under the radar of the opposition parties even though it managed to score well on good governance and implemented some pro-development policies. The opposition has always made BJP a victim of its Hindu nationalist agenda and held it responsible for the spurt in violence and discrimination against the minorities whether it’s mob lynching for consuming beef or vandalizing statues of national leaders.
But the recent declaration of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka to demand religious status for the Lingayats has ruffled some feathers in the party circles, which definitely sets the stage for some pre-election antics.
The state cabinet headed by Siddaramaiah has approved a seven member committee report to declare separate religious status to the Lingayat community.
The decision came after discussions and deliberations based the recommendations of the Nagmohan committee under section 2D of state Minorities Act.
The Lingayats are a Shaivite sect, the followers of Lord Shiva in the universal form of Ishtalinga, a concept first introduced by the 12th century poet Basava, who reinvented Hinduism by rejection of its scriptures(Vedas and Upanishads), caste bias and the concept or rebirth and karma.
The dropping of the Lingayat bombshell by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah comes crucial notwithstanding the community’s 17% strength which forms a chunk of the state’s population of 68 million and a strong vote base of 100 seats in the 224 member assembly.
Unlike the Gujarat assembly elections where the Congress subsequently targeted BJP’s regressive policies on farmer’s crisis, reservation demands of Patidars and Dalits and soft pedaling a Hindutva card, in Karnataka the Congress has invented a new local political rhetoric to fight BJP’s aggressive religious campaign.
The Congress also brings in debate on state flag and Kaveri river water sharing besides pumping some action by pressing the religious identity for the Lingayats. The BJP has vehemently raised objection on the state government’s move to grant religious status to the Lingayats as it will further rip apart the social fabric.
Because the committees’ decision to grant religious status to Lingayats alone infuriated another sub-sect of Lingayats- the Veershaiva-Lingayats, the committee morphed its decision to include the Veershaiva Lingayats also in its fold.
Analysts feel the state governments move can make or mar the electoral prospects of the Congress.
While this strategy is seen as the Congress bid to shatter BJP’s traditional vote base of Lingayats in norther Karnataka, the BJP firmly believes that this move will not translate into votes for Congress and may backfire in long term.
Religious recognition of Lingayats is also a Congress tactic to deflate the prospects of another prominent Lingayat leader from BJP BS Yedurappa, who is a strong proponent of brand nationalism and the main rival of CM Siddaramaiah.
Karnataka has been a Congress bastion and it definitely hopes to retain its power for the second term, provided it can get past the anti-Hindu sentiment and it’s disrepute over the activities of fringe groups and murders of political activists like MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, the justice for which still looms large.
BJP’s ability to stall the Lingayat lobbying of the Congress and lure the fractured vote base it usually banks on, can break the ice to establish its Hindutva brand and rake its riches further down south with neighbouring Tamil Nadu being the next destination .