Karnataka Congress adopts four-pronged strategy to woo Lingayats

Former CM Siddaramaiah’s visit to Rambhapuri Mutt in Chikkamagaluru in the midst of his tour to flood-hit districts is a part of this strategy

Five guarantees-Siddaramaiah,
Congress leader Siddaramaiah meeting a Veerashaiva seer at Chikkamagaluru was part of a strategic decision to draw Lingayat votes. File photo

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah called on Rambhapuri Mutt seer Prasanna Renuka Veera Someshwara Shivacharya, at Balehonnur near Chikkamagaluru, during his tour to flood-hit districts. He met the seer on Friday in a surprise move to rectify his ‘wrong step’ in proposing a separate Lingayat religion in 2018 when he was the chief minister.

This is a strategic step by the  Karnataka Congress leader as his party prepares to face assembly elections in 2023. After Siddaramotsava, his birthday bash which turned into a Congress congregation, party leaders have now planned to acknowledge their past mistakes and try to correct them.

The Congress has decided on four corrective measures, which are being appreciated by its workers. Party leader Rahul Gandhi meeting a Lingayat seer and getting Lingadeekshe was a part of this move, and so is Siddaramaiah meeting a Veerashaiva seer at Chikkamagaluru. Congress leader MB Patil’s meeting with seers of Lingayat-Veerashaiva Mutts is also a part of this strategy.

Also read: Kodagu: BJP workers stop Siddaramaiah’s car, throw eggs

Correcting past mistakes

The big mistake, according to Congress sources, was the decision by Siddaramaiah to separate Lingayats from Veerashaivas by proposing a Lingayat religion. This was initially appreciated by his party as it was considered a masterstroke to defeat the BJP, which mainly banks on Lingayat votes. However, Veerashaivas, a sub-sect of Lingayats, turned against Siddaramaiah and the BJP succeeded in advancing the theory in the minds of Lingayats that Siddaramaiah was trying to divide the community.

Siddaramaiah was termed  anti-Lingayat and this proved to be one of the reasons for the Congress’ defeat in the 2018 assembly elections. In any case, Lingayats as a community had moved away from the Congress after CM Veerendra Patil was replaced in 1990. 

After forming the government in coalition with the JD(S), and becoming deputy chief minister in 2006, BJP’s BS Yediyurappa (BSY) became the unquestioned Lingayat leader. However, in his fourth term as chief minister, he was asked to resign by the BJP central leadership, in 2021. 

He was replaced by Basavaraj Bommai, also from the Lingayat community. But Bommai has not proved to be a charismatic leader. Several other leaders from the community are also trying to wear BSY’s shoes in the BJP, but not succeeding. Though BSY was given a higher post in the BJP parliamentary board and the central election committee recently, it is not likely that he will be made the chief minister again.

So the Congress is trying to develop a Lingayat leader as they see an opening there. Even a small percentage of Lingayat votes will help the party to come back to power, according to sources in the Congress. Thus, the party is trying hard to pacify the Lingayats through four strategic moves.

Move 1: Davangere event

Siddaramaiah held his birthday gathering, which attracted lakhs of Congress supporters, at Davangere, a stronghold of Lingayats. It is the home turf of Shamanoor Shivashankarappa, who was in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet and had opposed the move to propose religious status for Lingayats. He also holds the position of president of Akhila Bharatiya Veerashaiva Mahasabha. 

Shamanuru Shivashankarappa helped Siddaramotsava by providing facilities at Davangere to hold the big event and supported Siddaramaiah’s leadership openly.

Move 2: Rahul meets seer

Rahul Gandhi, who made his appearance on August 3 at Siddaramotsava, called on the seer of Lingayat sect, Dr Shivamurthy Muruga Sharana of Muruga Mutt, a day earlier. He also received ‘Ishtalinga Deekshe’ from the seer and it was said that the visit was at Siddaramaiah’s behest.

Move 3: Post for Patil

With BJP’s Lingayat leader BSY not likely to be in the chief minister’s race, the Congress is trying to pacify the community by naming MB Patil as the chairman of the KPCC campaign committee. Patil, who was also instrumental in proposing the Lingayat religion, hails from North Karnataka and is supposedly close to Siddaramaiah. He is launching a 22 -day campaign from August 21 and plans to visit around 17 Veerashaiva-Lingayat mutts across the state.

Move 4: Siddaramaiah’s ‘regrets’

This move was seen as obvious after Siddaramaiah met the Veershaiva seer at Chikkamagaluru during his state-level tour to visit flood-ravaged districts. When he met Prasanna Veerasomeshwara Shivacharya Swamy, the seer of Rambhapuri Mutt, he is said to have expressed his regrets for the ‘mistake’.

Also read: Siddaramaiah’s bash was huge, now wait for BJP’s events: Yediyurappa

After his visit, the seer told the media that Siddaramaiah expressed his regrets and confessed that he was misled by some people. According to him, Siddaramaiah clarified that he will not go for such a move and will work for the betterment of the state. He added, “Siddaramaiah told me that he did not make any such attempt, but some people tried to mislead me. He repents for it.”