Featuring two of its prominent leaders, state chief DK Shivakumar and leader Siddaramaiah, the Congress became the second major party to release its first list of candidates for the upcoming Karnataka elections on Saturday, preceded by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which fielded 80 candidates last Tuesday.
At a time when the Congress is facing an existential crisis after its leader Rahul Gandhi’s two-year jail sentencing by a Gujarat court for referring to thieves as having the surname Modi and his subsequent disqualification as an MP from Kerala’s Wayanad constituency, the party’s strategic 124-candidate first list is being seen as a live-saver ahead of the crucial polls in a few weeks.
Congress’s list comprises at least 28 candidates from the Lingayat community, a numerically strong one that holds considerable sway in Karnataka politics.
The party’s list features seven Panchamshali Lingayat candidates, five Reddy Lingayat members, three Sadar Lingayats, three Veerashaiva Lingayats, four Lingayat (others), three Banjiga Lingayats, two Ganiga Lingayats, and a Nonaba Lingayat besides 22 Vokkaliga candidates. It also figures four sets of father-daughter and father-son duos, including M Krishnappa from Vijaynagar and Priyakrishna from Govindarajnagar, Ramalinga Reddy from BTM layout, and Soumya Reddy of Jayanagar, Shamanuru Shivashankrappa from Davanagere (south) and Mallikarjun (Davanagere-North) and KH Muniyappa from Devanahalli and Roopa of KGF.
Basavanna, a 12th-century philosopher, poet, and social reformer, is largely believed to have founded Lingayatism. The word Lingayat traces its origin to the Kannada word “lingavanta” and literally means one who wears an istalinga, (formless God). Istalinga is in the form of an oval-shaped emblem which is worn around the neck.
Lingayats are worshippers of Shiva. Basavanna’s Lingayatism, which grew during the Bhakti Movement, rejected caste hierarchy and Hindu rituals such as wearing a sacred thread. Meanwhile, Veerashaivas are worshippers of Shiva and precede Basavanna. Veershaivism draws from Vedas, and the worshippers follow the sect’s five peethas or holy centres–Rambhpuri, Ujjaini, Kedar, Shreeshail and Kashi.
Followers of Veershaivism are largely concentrated in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra.
Lingayats and Veerashaivas together constitute nearly 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population and are considered to have traditionally voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By including more Lingayat candidates, the Congress wishes to fulfill its target of winning at least 150 seats in the 224-member assembly.
Lingayats/Veerashaivas are in considerable numbers in nearly 100 of the 224 Assembly seats, mostly in north Karnataka. Karnataka has had nine chief ministers from the community.
Former CM Siddaramaiah, who is returning to his home turf of Varuna in Mysuru district, which is currently represented by his son Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah, had in 2018, announced to recommend to the Centre that religious minority status be granted to Lingayats.
Siddaramaiah, who currently represents Badami in Bagalkote district, had earlier announced that he would be contesting from Kolar, but backtracked after party leadership reportedly cautioned him regarding the “risks” of fighting from there.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already started wooing the Lingayat voters by deciding to scrap the 4 per cent OBC reservation for Muslims. They will now be moved to 10 per cent Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category.
With the latest rejig, the Muslims will now have to compete with EWS quota, which has Brahmins, Vysyas, Mudaliyars, Jains and others. Considering the community’s long-standing demand, the government has also decided that the 4 per cent quota of Muslims will now be given to Vokkaligas (2 per cent) and Lingayats (2 per cent) for whom two new reservation categories of 2C and 2D were created during the Belagavi Assembly Session last year.