The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a strong Lingayat vote base, is now facing the heat as several leaders from the community are leaving the party in the run-up to the Assembly elections on May 10.
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Former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, the second most important Lingayat leader after BS Yediyurappa in the state, and the former Deputy Chief Minister Lakshman Savadi joining the Congress has not only embarrassed the BJP but also shaken up the party leadership. The party now faces the charge of not giving importance to leaders belonging to the Lingayat community. In election month, this is extremely bad news for the BJP.
Nadda in Hubli
To control the damage, therefore, BJP president JP Nadda is on a two-day visit to North Karnataka’s Hubbali, the home turf of Shettar, and plans to hold meetings with party workers.
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On Tuesday evening, Nadda interacted with senior BJP party workers at two separate places. He is also scheduled to attend a meeting of district and Mandal office bearers of BJP’s Dharwad division, where around 800 senior party workers will be taking part. On Wednesday morning, he will go to Lingayat Mutts, including Sri Siddharuda Mutt and Sri Mooru Savira Muttballi, and offer pooja. During these visits, he will interact with party activists.
Nadda’s plans are aimed at convincing Lingayat leaders in the region to prevent further damage. He is focussing on party workers and BJP members of local bodies in the North Karnataka region, who are mainly from the Lingayat community and are influential in the region.
Nadda’s damage-control exercise is being seen in light of Shettar’s exit which could be a threat to the BJP in North Karnataka. Shettar himself has said that his exit will deal a blow to the BJP in more than 20 constituencies in North Karnataka.
Along with Shettar, the exit of other Lingayat leaders like Lakshman Savadi, Ramdurg MLA Mahadevappa Yadavada, Belagavi North MLA Anil Benake and Basavana Bagewadi MLA Somanagouda Patil is likely to dent BJP’s chances in North Karnataka. Savadi and Shettar would hurt the BJP the most as in North Karnataka Lingayats form the biggest community and have been supporters of the BJP for many years.
Even though BJP leaders, on the face of it, are showing as if they are not worried about the developments, but their tension can be perceived. A senior BJP leader pointed out that the party’s national president himself had to come to Hubli to meet the leaders and console the party workers.
After joining the Congress, Shettar lashed out at the BJP, saying the Lingayat community has been treated unfairly by the party and that Lingayat leaders have no status in the BJP. He warned his exit would adversely affect the BJP in about 20-21 constituencies in North Karnataka.
Banajiga Lingayats are in large numbers in Belgaum, Bellary, Bidar, Bijapur, Bagalkota, Chitradurga, Davangere, Koppal, Gadag, Haveri, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts. Among them, there are sub-sects like Adibanajiga, Shilavanta, Dholapavada etc.
Ganiga Lingayats are mostly found in Belgaum, Bidar, Bijapur, Bellary, Bagalkot, Dharwad, Gadag, Haveri, Chitradurga, Gulbarga, Koppal and Raichur districts.
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Shettar is from the Banajiga sub-sect, whereas Savadi is from the Ganiga sub-sect.
This is what worries the BJP. Moreover, Shettar’s belligerence seems to have shaken the saffron party, which is now striving to prevent a split in the Lingayat votes.