The BJP in Karnataka has plenty to worry about due to Jagadish Shettar.
Shettar’s dramatic exit from the BJP and entry into the Congress after serving the Hindu right-wing faithfully for decades has created ripples in Hubballi’s politics which people admit is bound to cast a shadow on the coming assembly elections.
The Shettar family, which has a strong hold over Hubballi, is from a merchant community named Banajiga, a critical sub-sect of the larger Lingayat community which has now made the BJP base in the region shaky.
Also read: Shettar ire opens up Brahmin-Lingayat fault line in Karnataka BJP
The Shettar family played a key role in spreading the Hindutva ideology in North Karnataka. Thus, his departure is seen to have dented the Hinduva appeal in a region where it took birth in the state a long time back.
Such is the BJP’s worry that it is reportedly planning to unleash Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to canvas for the party in Hubballi in a bid to neutralise the effect of Shettar’s decision to embrace the Congress, a long-standing foe.
Hubballi city was built by trader Basappa Shettar in 1727. The Hubballi-Dharwad Central assembly constituency, basically Hubballi city, has produced two chief ministers: S R Bommai,and Jagdish Shettar. They have also clashed in the past, with Shettar defeating Bommai, then in the JD(U) in 1994 by 16,000 votes. Since then, Shettar has been consistently winning from Hubballi.
Shettar’s father SS Shettar, a senior activist of the Jana Sangh, was elected five times to the Hubballi-Dharwad Municipal Corporation and became its first Jana Sangh Mayor. His uncle, Sadashiv Shettar, was the first Jana Sangh MLA in south India to get elected to the Karnataka Assembly in 1967.
Bommai joined the BJP in 2008. In contrast, Jagdish Shettar, a Lingayat leader, was always a BJP stalwart. Shettar was the Karnataka chief minister in 2012 but failed to bring the BJP back to power the next year.
Keshava Shettar, a distant relative of Jagadish Shettar, told The Federal that it was an irony that the family which built BJP based on Hindutva was now plucking away the same roots. According to him, Shettar doesn’t hate the BJP but joined the Congress after being ignored by his original party in the state elections. Naturally, his induction is helping the Congress to mop up a section of the Lingayat votes not only in Hubballi but in entire North Karnataka. It is in this part of the state that Lingayats play a crucial role.
Also read: Karnataka polls: BJP rushes Nadda to Hubbali for ‘damage control’ after Shettar’s exit
The Hubballi-Dharwad Central constituency has around 242,700 voters, which include 71,000 Lingayats, 43,000 Muslims, 26,500 Christians, 22,000 Marathis and Brahmins each and 25,000 OBCs.
As the BJP has fielded Mahesh Tenginakai – also from the same Banajiga sub-sect as Shettar – the former chief minister does face a threat. However, his followers assert that the Congress vote base and a section of the Banajiga community will support Shettar.
Also, the SSK (Somavansha Sahasrarjuna Kshatriya) community, a migrant clan during the time of the Hyderabad Nizam, is supporting Shettar for many years and still leans towards him, said Chenna Basannanavar in Hubballi.
Shettar’s Banajiga community is spread across 40 constituencies in the Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka region and is a deciding factor in around 25 constituencies. The same community is a threat to the BJP as well in other constituencies.
In these places, the Panchamasali sub-sect is the major stakeholder within the Lingayat community. The second largest sub-sect are the Banajigas, who consider Shettar their leader.
Banajiga leader Ramesh Menasinkai told The Federal that community members are upset over the way the BJP has treated Shettar, generating a lot of sympathy for him. Other Lingayat sub-sects also feel the same way, others interviewed in the constituency said.
Menasinkai added: “First, BSY was asked to step down as chief minister, then leaders like Shettar and Savadi were not given tickets to contest. This is sending a negative message to the party cadre, where Lingayats are more in number. This will affect the elections.”
However, Bhimesh Patil, also a Banajiga leader and a businessman, predicted defeat for Shettar.
Also read: Bereft of BJP, Shettar’s real standing will be tested for the first time
“Shettar is not ready to give a chance to youngsters in his community and let new faces come into politics. When BJP is introducing a young Lingayat who served under Shettar, why is he worrying? He only needs power and control over the Hubballi business. That’s why he wants to contest again,” he said.
“It won’t be easy for Shettar. The Lingayat base in this region has had an inclination towards RSS for decades and it won’t change its mind so easily,” he added.
The Federal correspondent visited places in Hubballi city and elsewhere in Hubballi district and spoke to people in urban, semi-urban and villages where the Panchamasali and Banajiga sub-sects are playing a major role. SCs, STs and OBCs are also split between the Congress and the BJP.
BJP leaders have already begun to reach out to people.
The Panchamasali sub-sect feels the government has done nothing to ensure jobs. “The decision by the government to increase the job quota by 2 per cent for the Lingayat community is not helping Panchamasalis. The issue is in the court and the community will get nothing,” said Hiresh Patil, an auto-rickshaw driver.
The Shettar issue will help the Congress in other parts of North Karnataka including Haveri, Gadag, Belagavi, Koppal and Raichur, said Basavaraj Koppad from Kalaghatagi. He said even prominent BJP leaders including Aravind Bellada and Basanagouda Patil Yatnal were worried about the harm Shettar can cause.
The Federal learnt that the working class is indeed worried about corruption and rising prices of basic amenities, and is looking for a “clean government”. Rajamma Kavatagimut, an employee in a garment factory, complained that life has become very hard due to inflation. “I am a Lingayat but I will vote for a person who shall give good governance and help the poor and the middle class.”
Also read: Karnataka polls: Why Shettar’s induction is another big boost for Congress
Nawaith Khan, a mobile repair shop owner, said a secular government was the need of the hour. “The Muslim community seeks safety,” he said.
Shettar, who was against the minorities during the Ayodhya and Idgah Maidan issues, is now contesting from the Congress. “What is the guarantee he will not go back to the BJP? We are confused,” he said.