IN THE run-up to the assembly elections, Siddaramaiah proposed that Lingayats should be recognised as a separate religion. He hoped to wean away the Lingayats from their preferred choice of BJP and B S Yeddyurappa, but his gambit backfired.
Sixteen of his senior ministers, including three of four Lingayat ministers who supported the movement for a separate religion tag, were defeated in the polls.
Siddaramaiah himself lost to JD(S)’s G T Devegowda in Chamundeshwari constituency, in his home district of Mysuru which he has represented five times in the past, and just about managed to win Badami seat in Bagalkot — in the Mumbai-Karnataka region in the Lingayat belt — by 1,696 votes against the BJP’s B Sreeramulu.
In northern Karnataka, comprising the Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions with a sizeable Lingayat population, the Congress lost crucial seats. From 31 seats in 2013, the Congress plunged to 17 in Mumbai-Karnataka.
The Lingayats, who account for about 17 per cent of the state’s population, influence the outcome in at least 90 of Karnataka’s 224 assembly constituencies.
Several senior Congress ministers were defeated, even as the BJP swept across constituencies in coastal and central Karnataka regions and the JD(S) dominated the Old Mysore region.
Senior Congress leader from Bantwal constituency in coastal Karnataka, B Ramanath Rai, lost to BJP’s Rajesh Naik. H Anjaneya who was projected as a leader of left Dalits or Madigas, lost the Holalkere (reserved) seat in Chitradurga district to BJP’s M Chandrappa.
Among the other senior ministers who were defeated were T B Jayachandra, Umashree, Santosh Lad, S S Mallikarajun, Pramod Madhawaraj and H C Mahadevappa.
Three other Lingayat ministers — Sharan Prakash Patil, a three-time MLA from Sedam in Gulbarga, Basavaraj Rayaraddi from Yelburga in Koppal and Vinay Kulkarni from Dharwad — also lost to the BJP.
With his gamble failing, Siddaramaiah is now under attack from within his party. Senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily attributed the party’s loss to “wrong caste management”.
The Congress should not have raised the Lingayat issue before the polls, he said, adding that the party had not managed caste equations well in its electoral strategy.
Sources in the Congress said the focus on Lingayats and Kurubas, the caste to which Siddaramaiah belongs, may have alienated other communities. “I am surprised by the results. The Akhila Bharata Lingayata Mahasabha had even issued full-page advertisements, asking the community members to vote for the Congress,” said Sarjoo Katkar, a member of the panel appointed by the Siddaramiah government to look into the issue of granting minority status to the Lingayats.
In fact, after playing the Lingayat card to divide the Hindu vote bank, the Congress had underplayed the issue, apprehensive of a possible backlash among non-Lingayat communities. The maximum backlash, perhaps, was felt in the Vokkaliga belt in South Karnataka.
“It was not even a talking point in the elections,” said a senior Congress leader who oversaw the party’s campaign in the Mumbai-Karnataka region. “We perhaps overestimated the issue,” he said.