The entry of senior BJP leader and former Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar to the Congress just days before the Assembly elections has given the Grand Old Party a big boost in more ways than one.
Importantly, the move is expected to help the Congress strengthen its Lingayat voter base.
Wooing Lingayats back
Disgruntled with the BJP leadership for not giving him a ticket for the Assembly elections, Shettar joined the Congress days after his colleague and fellow Lingayat leader Laxman Savadi crossed over to the party.
Also read: Karnataka polls: Jagadish Shettar joins Congress after quitting BJP
Political analysts believe the induction of two influential Lingayat leaders will help Congress woo back its voters in the community. Notably, Lingayats distanced themselves from the Congress after the party, then headed by Rajiv Gandhi, removed Lingayat leader Veerendra Patil as the chief minister following communal riots in the state in 1990. Since then, the community has voted for the BJP, helping it create a stronghold, especially in North Karnataka region.
However, Shettar and Savadi, who have influence in the North Karnataka region – both Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka – will now be expected to cite their cases to show the ‘step-motherly’ treatment of the BJP towards Lingayat leaders.
Is Shettar’s entry a threat to old-timers?
Analysts also put to rest concerns that Shettar’s entry to the party may threaten the position of a few powerful Lingayat leaders like 93-year-old Shamanuru Shivashankarappa (the oldest leader from the community in the Congress), MB Patil, Vijayananda Kashappanavara and Eshwar Khandre.
Sources said Patil, a five-time MLA, is not worried about Shettar’s inclusion and in fact took the initiative to welcome him. A close aide of the Congress leader told The Federal that Shettar’s entry instead would widen the Lingayat voter base of the Congress in the North Karnataka region and help Patil grow stronger.
Also Read: BJP will form govt in Karnataka again: Shah
The fact that Shettar has joined the Congress without seeking any top posts is also a consolation for rival Lingayat leaders within the party. Sources said there is also an understanding between Patil and Shettar to help each other politically.
Shettar is a prominent leader of the Lingayat Banajiga community, a sub-sect of the Lingayat community. His entry to the Congress will help the party consolidate its position in the Mumbai-Karnataka region, as Hubbali has 20 per cent of the Lingayat population.
Matrimonial ties come to aid
Also, Shettar’s son is married to the granddaughter of senior Congress leader Shamanur Sivashankarappa, who is also the president of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha. His other son is married to Shraddha Angadi, daughter of former BJP MP Suresh Angadi, and possibly has influence in the former’s constituency Belagavi as well. If Shettar’s entry into the Congress keeps the Angadi family neutral in the elections, then it could be a blow to the Congress, say analysts.
Interestingly, Shettar was invited to Congress in a meeting held at Shamanur’s residence in Davanagere on Saturday night in the presence of KPCC working president Patil. Patil himself declared that he is a chief ministerial aspirant in the Congress as he, DK Shivakumar, Dr G Parameshwar, and Krishna Byre Gowda are the second-line leaders and Mallikarjuna Kharge and Siddaramaiah are the first-line leaders in the Congress.
KPCC president Khandre upset?
Meanwhile, KPCC working president Eshwar Khandre is said to be unhappy with Shettar’s sudden entry.
With considerable influence among Lingayats in North Karnataka region, Khandre believes if Shettar and MB Patil join hands, it could be a threat to his political prospects.
Also Read: Karnataka polls: Shettar warns BJP that denying him ticket could impact 20-25 seats
Interestingly, Khandre, like Shettar, belongs to the Banajiga sub-sect of the Lingayat community, a deciding factor in the Mumbai Karnataka region.
A source in Congress says Khandre believes Shettar might ‘snatch’ his chances in future.
The source said senior leader DK Shivakumar and Opposition leader Siddaramaiah have spoken to Khandre about the “larger goal of winning the election rather than thinking too much about future now”.
They have also reportedly assured him of “giving a prominent role if the party is voted to power”.