Lingayat leaders in the Congress in Karnataka made a representation to the party leadership on Monday,seeking 60 election tickets for members of their community. Meanwhile,leaders of the Janata Dal Secular party of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda,including party president H D Kumaraswamy,are on a pilgrimage to Ajmer to send out a signal to minority voters.
In the BJP,new state unit president Prahlad Joshi has been telling people that Lingayat strongman and former BJP chief minister B S Yeddyurappa has been contracted by the Congress to split the Lingayat vote. Yeddyurappa,in turn,has been telling people that without his support the BJP will not get even 50 seats in the assembly polls.
Caste calculations for the May 5 elections,including the missing ingredients in each partys blueprint for victory,are becoming clearer as the parties gear up to finalise their candidates and strategies amid a strong anti-incumbency wind against the BJP.
The Congress knows it needs the full support of one of the two majority communities,each antagonistic to the other the Lingayats with 17 per cent of the six crore population,or the Vokkaligas with 15 per cent if it hopes to clinch a majority in the 224-member assembly. This will be in addition to the Congresss traditional vote base of a sizable chunk of the OBCs (33 per cent),SC/STs (23 per cent) and minorities (10 per cent)
It is generally considered that the Congress will need the backing of a majority community alongside its traditional vote base of OBCs,SC/STs and minorities to seal a majority, a Congress leader agreed.
With the Vokkaligas of southern Karnataka perceived to be largely a JDS vote base,the Congress has been going the extra distance to woo the Lingayats. Last April,Congress president Sonia Gandhi was at Tumkur for the 105th birthday of Lingayat spiritual leader Shivakumar Swami,head of the Siddaganga Mutt. That was seen as a sign of the Congress attempting to build bridges with the Lingayat community,which has strongly identified with the BJP in recent times.
On Monday,a delegation of Lingayat leaders,led by Shamanur Shivashankarappa,80,an aspirant for the chief ministers seat,met Sonia in New Delhi for the 60 tickets they want,party sources said.
The Congress has often been perceived as treating the community poorly because of the way it had dumped Lingayat chief ministers such as S Nijalingappa and Veerendra Patil. In another effort to reverse that perception,the Congress has appointed a lightweight Lingayat leader,Veeranna Mathikatti,at the head of its election campaign committee. Mathikatti has said Lingayat voters are being wooed on the promise of a clean administration,preference for merit,peace and order.
To consolidate its OBC votes,particularly those from the Kuruba community who make up nearly 11 per cent of the population,the Congress is banking on the possibility that community leader Siddaramaiah is a chief ministerial candidate for the party.
For the minority vote,the other contender is the Janata Dal Secular. To prevent a drift,the Congress has appointed former civil aviation minister and former Janata Dal leader C M Ibrahim,who is a Siddaramaiah camp follower,as campaign coordinator for the party.
This week,the Congress is also expected to decide on several defectors from the BJP who have queued up for tickets. Their arrival has created dissent within the Congress.
At BJP events in Haveri,considered to be a stronghold of Lingayats and tipped to favour the KJP of Yeddyurappa,and in Yeddyurappas hometown of Shimoga,new state president Joshi said this week, Yeddyurappa is a puppet in the hands of the Congress (for dividing the BJPs Lingayat vote). The BJP enjoys the support of all communities.
Joshi,a Brahmin,is being seen as a front for veteran BJP leader H N Ananth Kumar and there are murmurs of disgruntlement among other community leaders over the choice.
The BJP is hoping Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and the backing of Lingayat pontificates will help the party hold on to its traditional Lingayat base while drawing in the support of OBCs and SC/STs on account of the targeted sops the government has doled out in the last five years.
Meanwhile,amid reports of the KJP and the Congress striking a tacit pre-poll understanding that can be converted into a formal post-poll alliance,an affirmation came from KJP campaign committee chairman Dhananjay Kumar. He said the KJP would back the Congress in the event of the KJP failing to do well.
Party sources said they would target winning in certain Lingayat strongholds in the northern districts while also aiming to defeat bitter rivals in the BJP through strategic alliances,part of Yeddyurappas continued attempts to prove his value to his former party. The KJP also expects the defection of some BJP leaders into the KJP by the end of this week.
The JDS has had a head start in wooing communities to add to its existing bank of the Vokkaligas in southern Karnataka,including Bangalore where 28 seats are up for grabs including 18 held by the BJP.
We are the only party to have conducted conventions for Dalits,OBCs,the minorities and the disabled in the past couple of months. We are going to consolidate these votes, a party spokesperson said. Our leaders led by H D Kumaraswamy are going to Ajmer to offer prayers this week. We will have our candidatess list out by the end of the week.
The JDS is said to be talks in with the newly formed party of scheduled tribe leader B Sreeramulu,the BSR Congress,for a possible alliances in certain constituencies.