Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently paid a visit to the Siddaganga Mutt in Tumakuru, near Bengaluru, a prominent Lingayat community mutt to attend the birth centenary of the late pontiff Dr. Shivakumara Swamiji. The visit is seen as a clear pointer to the BJP party’s religious-centric approach to the forthcoming election.
Will Karnataka voters accept the divisive politics of the BJP in the coming Assembly elections? To take forward its Hindutva agenda, party leaders discussed it at a state executive meeting a few days back. During the meeting, the BJP central leadership instructed party cadres to make the Hindutva agenda the core election issue for the 2023 Assembly polls.
The state’s right-wing groups have been helping the BJP by raising many communal issues in the state. Now the question is how the party takes forward controversial issues such as Hijab, Halal cut, Azaan, and the ban on Muslim traders in temple premises till the 2023 Assembly elections. Pramod Muthalik, the controversial chief of the Rashtriya Hindu Sena says his group does not have a direct relationship with the BJP, but that “our fight is to safeguard Hindutva and nationalism”.
Except in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Kodagu, some parts of Chikkamagaluru, and Shivamogga districts, the communal polarisation did not work in favour of the BJP during the 2018 Karnataka state Assembly elections. The Vokkaligas, the other dominant community, in the state are less responsive to communal issues. This community is spread across the old Mysore region.
Similarly, the Dalit-dominated Assembly constituencies in the central part and north Karnataka region too have never cared much for religion-based politics. The AHINDA (Minority-Backward and Dalits) politics which emerged during the 2018 elections is also posing a threat to the BJP as the party does not have tall leaders belonging to that section. The caste census prepared by the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission revealed that AHINDA population is decisive in winning the elections. The Congress is likely to roll out its AHINDA pawn in the 2023 Assembly elections.
BJP national general secretary C.T. Ravi said that “the party’s Hindutva agenda has been widely accepted by the people of coastal Karnataka”. He hopes that the rest of Karnataka too will accept it.
North Karnataka, known for its religious harmony as major mutts belong to the dominant Lingayat community, has a cordial relationship with Muslims due to Basavanna and other Sharana principles. The saffron party has to therefore come up with geographic-specific agendas for the forthcoming elections.
In the 2018 Assembly election, the BJP could encash on the Congress’s decision to give separate religion status to the Lingayats. This issue worked in favour of the BJP. However, the present situation is not rosy for the party. The BJP has sidelined Lingayat strongman and former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who has considerable influence in major parts of Karnataka.
Local body poll results
The state BJP is also facing a leadership crisis, both chief minister Basavaraj Bommai and party president Nalin Kumar Katil are low profile and have no state-wide influence. Moreover, Basavaraj Bommai is not in a position to ensure the victory of party candidates while the state party president has no community backing. There is much buzz in the state BJP about leadership change.
There is also speculation in BJP circles that Bommai will be replaced by a strong Hindutva face. The central leadership is also contemplating changing the present party president and appointing dominant communities such as Vokkaligas or scheduled caste leaders. Union Minister for state Shobha Karandlaje and C.T. Ravi, both belonging to the Vokkaliga community are the contenders for the post of party president.
The grassroots level socio-political scenario is possibly changing too, another cause of worry for the BJP. In the 2021 December local body elections, the Congress party proved more successful. Among 58 urban local bodies in 20 districts, out of 1,184 wards, the Congress won 501 wards while the ruling BJP bagged 433.