None of the Above (NOTA), abstain from voting or choose the Congress or JD(S). These are the options being discussed among Lingayats in Varuna in South Karnataka. Only weeks ago, BJP chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa’s son, Vijayendra, was denied a ticket, upsetting the dominant Lingayat community who are looking for other options.
The stakes were high. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah vacated this seat for his son, Yathindra, and Varuna was a keenly watched seat. Until late April, when Yeddyurappa announced his son would not contest.
The decision had BJP supporters in Varuna protesting for days. Vijayendra had even set up an office in Varuna town. It is now shut.
In Hadinarupura, which comprises the highest number of Lingayats in the constituency, K T Veerendra, a college student, says he is still to understand what happened. “There are about 60,000 Lingayat voters and they were all enthused about Vijayendra. I was not involved in party politics, but I approached the BJP and said I would help in anyway I could. Now, I don’t even feel like voting,” he says.
“There are few constituencies in Old Mysuru where Lingayats are dominant. But there were always Lingayat leaders here. Now, there are none. Vijayendra decided to take on the might of a CM’s son and that had impressed everybody,” says Chandru, who runs a transport business.
Varuna is also home to Siddaramaiah’s village of Siddaramanhundi. The support for the CM is high, but even here, they admit a contest between Yathindra and Vijayendra would have been tight.
“Here obviously everyone supports the CM and his son, but I know that if Vijayendra had contested, the CM would have had to spend a lot more time here than he has in the last two weeks,” says Nagesh, who lives a few houses away from Siddaramaiah’s home.
A few kilometres away, in Suttur village, a group of men, all Lingayats, are discussing their choices. “We should go for NOTA. We have enough numbers, maybe they will cancel the election,” says one.
“Are you crazy? Vijayendra himself said in a speech that NOTA is a bad idea. He urged us all to vote for the BJP,” says another.
“I will not support the BJP. Why should I? They have treated the son of a future CM like this. Who knows what will happen next? The Congress is not so bad. I will support them,” adds a third.
Asked about the Congress, S L Gangadhar says, “There is no doubt the CM did work here. Varuna developed only because of Siddaramaiah. But I would have chosen Vijayendra, had he contested.”
H N Nanjappa is the local Congress zila parishad member. “I admit it would have been difficult for the Congress. There were many Congress workers who came and told me, they would support our party but would not campaign against Vijayendra,” he says.
BJP sources say the party missed an opportunity to reshape politics in the region. “Lingayats dominate North Karnataka, but there are several pockets here too. We could have activated all those votes for the BJP,” says a senior BJP functionary. “Vijayendra’s candidature would have affected the outcome in several seats around Varuna… They may have helped defeat the Congress. Now, we find it hard to convince our people to even vote.”