One of the best places to understand the electoral significance of the emergence of former BJP chief minister B S Yeddyurappas Karnataka Janata Party ahead of the May 5 assembly polls in Karnataka is a constituency called Shiggaon in the northwestern district of Haveri.
The KJP was born in Haveri and the MLA from Shiggaon,Basavaraj Bommai,also the water resources minister in the BJP government,is the only one among Haveris five BJP MLAs who has not joined Yeddyurappa.
Bommai,a Lingayat community member like Yeddyurappa,and the son of the late chief minister S R Bommai of the Janata Party,was brought into the BJP ahead of the 2008 polls by Yeddyurappa himself.
But Bommai,53,is now in danger of losing his familys Shiggaon seat not for want of development but by the sheer capacity of Lingayat strongman Yeddyurappas standing in the region and his ability to split the BJPs Lingayat vote base.
In fact,the fight in Shiggaon is not between Bommai and the KJPs Lingayat candidate Bapugowda Kashinatha Gowda Patil but between Bommai and the Congress candidate Khadri Sayed Azeem Peer,who had lost to Bommai in 2008 due to a Lingayat vote wave for the BJP.
That is because the 32 per cent Lingayat voters in the constituency of 1.71 lakh votes are expected to end up divided due to the presence of the KJPs Lingayat candidate and possibly hand over victory to the Congress which has a sizable vote base that includes minorities,backward castes and Dalits.
Campaigning in Hurlikoppe village in his constituency,Bommai exhorted voters to vote for him for bringing development and not to be swayed by those seeking votes on caste lines.
He sought votes for bringing drinking water to the villages,for irrigating some 30,000 acres of dry land,for cementing village roads,for funding temple construction and repair and for creating educational institutions.
Yet,Bommai seemed a worried man. During a campaign stop in the constituency the previous evening,Yeddyurappa had played an emotional card aimed at Lingayats he accused Bommai of betraying him and lashed out at the BJP candidate. The buzz in BJP quarters since was that Bommai will have to work extra hard and spend more to ensure victory.
Bommai,however,tried to appear nonchalant about the KJP and Yeddyurappas tactics. People have got used to this kind of emotional behaviour. The KJP will have no effect on my election or the region. They miscalculated their strength, he said.
Supporters of Bommai also said that caste would not play a role in this specific constituency on account of the development work done by Bommai. Some 2,000-odd votes may go to the KJP. The Lingayats will all vote en masse for Bommai. In this constituency it is the individual more than the party that matters. In other parts of Haveri the KJP is strong, says Devanna Chakalabbi,Shiggaon region BJP president.
The same electoral dynamics that are in play in Shiggaon will be in play in much of Mumbai-Karnataka,as the region is known,where 38 out of 50 seats at stake were won by the BJP in 2008 on the back of a Lingayat sympathy wave for Yeddyurappa for being denied the chief ministers post in 2007 by the JD(S).
And this is expected to pose a potent threat to the BJPs 2008 tally of 110 seats in the 224 member Assembly.
Barring Shiggaon,it is a direct fight between the Congress and the KJP in Haveris remaining five constituencies. But in much of the rest of the 44 seats in the Mumbai-Karnataka region,the fight is between Congress and the BJP,with the KJP playing spoiler to the BJP.
In the neighbouring Dharwad district,the KJP poll dynamic will be in play in the BJPs Lingayat Chief Minister Jagadish Shettars Hubli-Dharwad (Central) constituency which has a 21 per cent Lingayat population in an electorate of 1.81 lakh.
But Shettar,a four time MLA whose family has long RSS links,is expected to tide over the KJPs Lingayat threat easily given the relative inexperience of all his rivals and the 26,009 margin between him and the Congress candidate last time.
In the 2008 polls the BJP won six of the seven seats in Dharwad but none of its legislators from the region have joined the KJP.
Nothing has happened to our vote base because of the KJP. The KJP will win only three to four seats. Karnataka has traditionally supported national parties and people know it is waste of a vote to cast it for a regional party, Shettar said.
The KJPs Lingayat dynamic will also be in play in the Nargund constituency in Gadag district where former BJP minister C C Patil,one of three BJP ministers investigated for viewing pornography in the Assembly in 2012,is playing the emotional card.
Accidentally shot by his own gunman a couple of months ago,Patil,who like Bommai did not join Yeddyurappa despite a close association,has deployed his wife and mother to campaign for him as he recuperates from his wounds.
Nargund has a 35 per cent Lingayat voting population of a total of 1.5 lakh. In 2008,the BJP won all four seats in Gadag and none of its MLAs defected to the KJP.
In the three other Mumbai-Karnataka districts – Belgaum,Bagalkot and Bijapur – there are 33 seats at stake with similar Lingayat dynamics as in Haveri,Dharwad and Gadag.
In the outgoing Assembly,23 of these 33 seats are represented by BJP MLAs and the KJP has applied a special focus in winning seats here if not breaking the BJPs vote base to help parties such as Congress. Even in reserved constituencies with large Lingayat populations the KJP is in play in such a way that it is likely to affect the BJP the most.
In the last 10 days of campaigning,KJPs Yeddyurappa has focused his attention on the Mumbai-Karnataka region in particular. Of the 50-odd constituencies he has actively toured nearly 35 have been in this Lingayat belt.
In 2008,the BJP emerged the single largest party despite garnering only 33.93 per cent of the vote share against 35.13 per cent for the Congress. A marginal shift in the vote share away from the BJP is expected to give the Congress a victory even if the Lingayats dont end up supporting the Congress wholeheartedly.
In 2008,nearly 99 percent of the Lingayats voted for the BJP. There were nearly 80 constituencies in the state where the Congress lost by a margin of around only 2,000 votes. This time in many places where there are KJP candidates Lingayats will vote for KJP so there will be a division of votes and the party most likely to benefit is the Congress, says a senior Kannada journalist in Hubli.
According to Yeddyurappa,he is not playing a game to defeat the BJP and help Congress but to ensure a KJP victory in most constituencies. BJP leaders do not think the KJP will get serious numbers but are cagey about its effect on Lingayat voters.
May 8 will tell what the emergence of the KJP did to Karnatakas voters.