With the Congress leadership in Karnataka lacking a face from the dominant Lingayat community, former minister and community leader M B Patil was appointed the chairman of the party’s campaign committee for assembly elections to be held in 2023 by the AICC on Tuesday.
“The Congress president has approved the proposal of appointment of Dr M B Patil as the chairman of the campaign committee with immediate effect,” said All India Congress Committee general secretary K C Venugopal.
The Congress party is attempting to build a rainbow coalition of castes and communities in the run-up to the 2023 state polls.
The party has D K Shivakumar, a member of the dominant Vokkaliga community from South Karnataka, as its president and OBC Kuruba community leader and former CM Siddaramaiah as the leader of opposition.
The party also has Scheduled Tribe leader Satish Jarkiholi and minority leader Saleem Ahmed as working presidents while Dalit leader Mallikarjun Kharge is the leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha.
However, the Congress was lacking a formidable leader from the Lingayat community—a dominant force in north Karnataka and is seen as being allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its former CM B S Yediyurappa.
M B Patil, the former home and water resources minister, was at the forefront of a campaign for the recognition of the Lingayat faith as a minority religion when the Congress was in power between 2013-18. The movement was seen as a vehicle to propel Patil into a leadership role in the community as an alternative to Yediyurappa.
The appointment of Patil in a leadership role in the KPCC comes at a time when there is a perception that the BJP may lose some of the support from the Lingayat community on account of the forced exit of Yediyurappa as the BJP CM of Karnataka in July 2021.
When Yediyurappa was eased out of the CM’s seat by the BJP—citing his 78-years of age and health—Patil had stated that the Lingayats, who make up 17 per cent of the state population, would be unhappy with the removal of Yediyurappa.
“It is my personal view that the BJP should conduct itself with dignity and respect considering the age and contributions of Yediyurappa,” Patil said at the time.
The support of the Lingayats is considered crucial to winning elections as they determine the fortunes of candidates in as many as 100 of the 224 seats in the legislative assembly as the largest state community.
Patil is a wealthy businessman from the Bijapur region of Karnataka with interests in the education sector. He is considered to be a close associate of former CM Siddaramaiah.
The appointment of Patil is, however, expected to pose a threat to the aspirations of KPCC president D K Shivakumar of being named as the chief minister candidate of the Congress party.
In the run-up to the 2018 polls, which the Congress lost, Shivakumar was the chairman of the campaign committee. Shivakumar recently attempted to establish himself as a key Vokkaliga leader with a protest march over a Cauvery drinking water project in South Karnataka. The Congress working president Satish Jarkiholi has also now proposed a similar protest march for the Mahadayi project in North Karnataka.
The appointment of Patil has come amid divisions among Lingayat leaders in the BJP since the exit of Yediyurappa as CM. Yediyurappa is known to be pushing for a leadership role in the BJP party or government for his younger son B Y Vijayendra.
A BJP Lingayat leader Murugesh Nirani, a sugar baron who is an aspirant to displace Basavaraj Bommai (also a Lingayat) as the CM of Karnataka, has been linked, in recent days, to efforts to establish a new Lingayat mutt in the state as a vehicle for his political ascendancy. A large sub-sect among the Lingayats—the Panchamsali Lingayats—have also been pushing for more prominence and for higher OBC reservations.
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