Basava is everywhere in the land of his birth — his face flutters on saffron flags that fly from cars in Gulbarga, his vachanas have been invoked by every politician; his name is turned into car stickers; and young Lingayats host him on their WhatsApp DPs. But will he be on people’s mind as they vote Saturday?
Prabhu Patil runs a shop in Basavakalyan town. He was one of 5 lakh people who had gathered in Bidar, 78 km away, last July at a rally to demand minority status for Lingayats. But he no longer backs the Congress government’s decision. “I had gone for the cause of Lingayat unity. I didn’t know that they were lobbying for a separate religion. This is nothing but a way to divide us,” says Patil. When his community goes out to vote, he says, most in Basavakalyan constituency will not vote for the Congress.
Basava, 12th-century poet-philosopher, is at the heart of the Congress’s gambit to add Lingayats to its vote bloc. But travelling on the Basava trail— from Basavanna Bagewadi in Bijapur, where he was born, to Basavakalyan in Bidar, where he announced a radical break from Vedic Hinduism — suggests that the attempt to wrest the loyalty of the large Lingayat community from the BJP may be faltering. Bidar and Bijapur have 4 lakh Lingayats each.
Congress workers, too, have been confused about how to pitch this move, and chosen to keep mum. Whatever ideologues of the movement say, centuries of religious practice have blunted Basava’s vision of a caste-less society and his opposition to idol worship. “We had been taught for many years that Basava was not a reformer, but the bull, Nandi,” says Pradeep Toravi, 25, a civil contractor.
“Basava is a god. He is worshipped by everyone, from Lingayats to Dalits to Muslims. But the religion he founded was not accepted even in the place of his birth. If it were, would this not have been a casteless society?” says Gundappa Muttaladini, 58, a journalist in Benal village in Basavanna Bagewadi. Indeed, the Lingayat community is stratified into 98 sub-castes, with its own hierarchy. “The Panchamshali considers himself superior, and will not marry the Harpad Lingayat,” he says.
For many Lingayats, there is no difference between a Hindu way of life and theirs. “In the jeguli in our house, we worship Basava as well as the other gods,” says Shankaraiyya Machakanooru, a Panchamsali Lingayat in Basavanna Bagewadi constituency. He is one of few Lingayats who have unambiguous words of praise for the Congress government. But he is emphatic that the “minority status” will not affect voters either way.
In village after village, conversations with Lingayats reveal great resentment at the way the government has “divided” the religion and empowered those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. “The Siddaramaiah government does not work for us, only for the SC/STs, the Kurubas and the minorities,” said Patil.
This is a charge repeated throughout the belt — that the Congress, which claims to espouse Basava’s philosophy, is a divisive player of caste and religion, while the BJP is trying to forge a “caste-less” Hindu samaj. In Siddheshwara Lingayat temple in Bijapur city, a group of men shoot the breeze. This is the garh of Basavangouda Patil Yatnal, the BJP candidate who has fashioned himself into a Hindutva icon with frequent references to the election as an India-Pakistan cricket match — the city has a large Muslim population. Here, there are few kind words for the many Bhagya schemes of the government. “What use is of giving rice to people? It is more important to give them jobs,” says Ravindra H, a 32-year-old Veerashaiva Lingayat.
In Bagewadi town, B S Patanshetti, 75, clerk in a temple trust, says Lingayats cannot benefit under a Congress government. “In fact, the Kurubas have become more assertive and aggressive now,” he said. While most Lingayats hold B S Yedyurappa in high regard, in the last lap of the campaign, a shift was evident. “Yedyurappa is a good man, but he got a bad name the last time he was a CM. There was a lot of corruption. But at least one hopes that [PM] Modi can oversee matters, put him on the right track,” said Siddu, owner of a paan shop in Jewargi constituency.
While Congress Lingayat leader M B Patil argues that the most prized schemes of the government, like Anna Bhagya and the loan waiver, are for everyone, decisions like 24% of state funds for SC/STs have made the dominant caste uneasy. “While small and marginal farmers are grateful for the waiver, bigger farmers, who are indebted to nationalised banks, are not,” said an officer in the agriculture department.
A lot will depend on which way villages like Hannikeri in Chittapur of Gulbarga swings. A thin strip of a 10km tarred road joins Hannikeri to the world outside. Murmurs of anti-incumbency against sitting MLA and IT Minister Priyank Kharge followed us all along the way.
A bus comes to the village to carry its inhabitants to their work — but only thrice. A group of men of various castes say they have had enough of Congress. Elderly women in the Holeya Dalit quarter complain of destitute widows’ pension not reaching them on time, but they will vote for the Congress, they say.
Sharda Dabgere, a Kuruba in her thirties, cites problems with electricity and water, but says the MLA has done enough. “I got a job as an anganwadi teacher, and so did others.” Kurubas, Dalits and Kabiliga families outnumber the dominant caste here. “The government works for all… The Lingayats won’t vote Congress, but we will,” she says.